UNM, NMSU mull actions as NCAA lifts moratorium on athletes

The NCAA Division I Council voted Wednesday to lift a moratorium on voluntary workouts by football and men’s and women’s basketball players effective June 1 as a growing number of college leaders expressed confidence that fall sports will be possible in some form despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision was confirmed by two people with direct knowledge of the vote who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the NCAA had not announced details. A decision on other sports was pending.

One of the people who spoke to the AP said the decision clears the way for individual workouts by athletes, mostly on their own, subject to safety and health protocols decided by their schools or local health officials..

For New Mexico’s two Division I universities, the vote came as no surprise. But the two athletic departments have different ideas on what it means in terms of when we’ll actually start seeing Lobo and Aggie athletes back on their campuses using university facilities, gyms or fields for workouts.

University of New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez said there is not yet a final return plan in place for athletes in any sport, though one is continually being refined. A June 1 return for Lobo athletes to campus, even on a limited basis, however, is unlikely he said.

Nuñez added that even when the department has a full return plan in place, the decision ultimately has to be in concert with the University’s administration and the Governor, who has recently relaxed stay at home orders, including a limited return of youth sports camps and sports leagues.

Mario Moccia, New Mexico State AD, said his department’s return plan is due Friday to university administrators and will be reviewed by a virologist.

“We don’t have a specific date on the plan, but if approved I could see us having some of the athletes back on June 1, assuming we got everything in the plan ready and there were no local or state guidelines stopping us from doing so,” Moccia said.

Among the numerous details of the plan, one spearheaded by Director of Sports Medicine Dominic Moreno, are details about things like weight room social distancing guidelines, what will be required to wear for coaches and trainers, capacity limitations of facilities, disabling water fountains and requiring individual bottles of water for athletes, pre-packaging food for team meals so players can get their meals and get out of the facilities quickly.

Both university return plans will also have to have details on COVID-19 testing of athletes, coaches and support staff, quarantine guidelines for when athletes return to Albuquerque or Las Cruces from wherever they’ve been living the past two months and specific plans for what happens when somebody around a team – either player or non-player – begins to show symptoms or actually tests positive for the virus.

Neither UNM nor NMSU has made final decisions on the reopening of campuses for all students. At both schools, and those across the country, summer months are usually full of football players preparing for the season ahead.

UNM coach Danny Gonzales has said he hopes that if his team is back and preparing by July 15, he could be confident in getting them ready for the 2020 season, which for the Lobos is still scheduled to start on Aug. 29 against Idaho State in Dreamstyle Stadium.

Whether there will be fans there is another question.

From Notre Dame to LSU and more, a number of schools have announced plans to reopen campuses for the fall semester, and conferences have begun setting up plans for how to play football amid the pandemic. The latest came this week with the Florida State system announcing plans for its 12 schools and more than 420,000 students.

Many questions remain, including specific safety protocols and whether fans would be allowed if games proceed.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in conference call Wednesday that he believes the Buckeyes could safely play home games with 20,000 to 30,000 fans in its 105,000-seat stadium. He said masks and other precautions would be required to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Smith added that Ohio State is ready to open the 15,000-square-foot Woody Hayes Athletic Center to athletes starting June 8 if the NCAA allows it.

The Journal’s Geoff Grammer contributed to this Associated Press report.


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