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Pac-12 decision may cost long-awaited Lobos at USC date

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

For Danny Gonzales to comment on the college football season or the schedule has become challenging because of the frequent changes as so many people are trying to adjust and make the right decisions in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Developments don’t just occur daily.

“It’s changing by the hour,” Gonzales said. “It’s ridiculous.”

The latest change came late Friday with the Pac-12 announcing it will have its fall sports, including football, play solely conference games this season.

The Lobos were scheduled to play at USC on Sept. 12 and receive $1,050,000 for the game with $100,000 already paid.

The announcement came after a meeting of the Pac-12 CEO Group on Friday, a day after the Big Ten opted to eliminate nonconference games for all fall sports.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our No. 1 priority,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Our decisions have and will be guided by science and data, and based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities.”

The Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences are still weighing options for fall sports. On Wednesday, the Ivy League became the first Division I conference to suspend all fall sports until at least January.

The Lobos-USC game was originally agreed to in 2012 and had been scheduled for Sept. 3, 2016, but USC rescheduled in order to play Alabama in AT&T Stadium. Could it be rescheduled yet again? That won’t be decided this week.

Gonzales, just as in many situations these days, said he is in a wait-and-see mode about losing USC as an opponent in 2020. He said scheduling a new opponent in USC’s place is a possibility.

UNM athletic director Eddie Nunez said he would comment on the topic next week.

The Lobos’ game at USC is one of 13 matchups pairing a Mountain West Conference team against a Pac-12 team in 2020.

Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson issued a statement moments after the Pac-12 announcement:

“We were aware of this possibility and will continue to evaluate the appropriate decisions and the proper timing going forward. The safety, health, and wellness of our student-athlete, coaches, staff members and campuses remain our top priority.”

Gonzales remains hopeful that college football will take place in the fall.

“We’re just staying positive and working toward Aug. 29 (the Lobos’ season opener against Idaho State),” he said. “I think the spring season scenario is gaining momentum, but I still think the fact that people are working to have football played in the fall is awesome.”

The Lobos completed their first week of workouts Friday at the UNM facilities. Gonzales said the sessions were organized and the training went according to plan. Gonzales and the coaching staff gauged the strength level of the players and he expects to intensify the training next week.

As for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordering for football and other fall sports to be moved to the spring for high schools in New Mexico, Gonzales chose to look at the positive side to that.

“For us, we play in the fall and they play in the spring,” he said. “It’s going to give us a lot better chance to evaluate those guys. … What I’m glad to hear is that they didn’t just scrap the season and say too bad. That would have been the worst-case scenario for all those kids and I thought the kids are deserving of having to play the season.”

Gonzales said 2020, his first year as UNM’s coach, has been a test in adjusting to different and unprecedented situations. He’s in a wait-and-see mode to what Lujan Grisham will decide next with regard to UNM and New Mexico State athletics.

“Everything changes so often, I don’t think I can be shocked by anything anymore,” Gonzales said, “… so it’s ‘how are we going to battle it? What are we going to do?’ One more obstacle.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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