Their phones were busy Wednesday morning.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez and NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia were getting calls and texts early from media and colleagues around the country asking the simple question: Will there be football this fall in New Mexico?
Citing COVID-19 concerns, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday sent to the leadership of both state Division I/Football Bowl Subdivision universities, as well as to the state’s other universities that field varsity sports at a Division II or lower level, asking that they not proceed with their fall contact sports.
While the question was asked more times than he could count, the official answer remained consistent throughout the day.
“Unfortunately that answer is not available at this time,” Nuñez said on a lunchtime Zoom conference call with Albuquerque media.
But two things were very clear on Wednesday from both athletic directors as they tried getting on with their duties as summer workouts taking place – UNM reported Wednesday four new positive COVID-19 cases among athletes and staff, and NMSU currently has six positive cases.
First, neither AD was going to speak out against the governor’s letter.
Second, neither was anywhere close to being ready to agree with its request, either.
“We respect and understand where Gov. Lujan Grisham is coming from,” Nuñez said. “From our perspective, we will continue to do what we’ve been doing – working with the Mountain West Conference, with the NCAA trying to make sure we continue down the path we have (been on). …
“It is something we will continue to consider. As we get further along with the NCAA and the Mountain West, and when a decision (there) is rendered where football or fall sports is going, then we have an opportunity to sit down again with her office and see at that point where we go from there.”
In both cases, as broader decisions regarding college football being played this fall might be coming soon, the ADs at UNM and NMSU are more than happy to ride out the wave of attention brought on by publication late Tuesday on the Journal website of the governor’s letter and not say anything wrong before the tough decision might get made for them.
Of course, if that national decision by the NCAA or at the conference level is to go forward with fall sports, then Nuñez and Moccia, or their universities’ governor-appointed Regents, will have to decide to abide by their governor’s wishes or not.
“Our intention isn’t to come in here and say we’re going to do something to go against her purposefully or anything else,” Nuñez said. “It would be, hopefully, that we have good dialogue, good active conversations that would allow us to get, hopefully, to a place we all feel comfortable with.”
Both ADs have made clear the financial hardships they would face if they don’t play fall sports. And to that end, the conversations with the governor’s office, Nuñez said, haven’t been specific about whether they would receive relief from the state if they abide, but have made clear they could lose millions by skipping out on game contracts.
COVID UPDATE: UNM announced on Wednesday that of 106 tests total of athletes (85) and coaches/staff (21) between July 5-19, there were four new positive tests for COVID-19 – three athletes and one staff member.
UNM has been testing since late June and started summer workouts early July and has tested 225 people with six positives.
Moccia said NMSU, which has been testing since late March and started summer workouts on June 8, currently has six athletes with positive tests. Three of those are athletes who tested positive upon returning to campus from out of town and before they were allowed to resume workouts.
Both schools have those who test positive in quarantine.
One UNM positive case is wide receive Jordan Kress, who announced his positive test on social media on Tuesday, urging people to mask up and take it serious.
“Every student athlete has the right to talk about,” Nuñez said. “And he was honest. It wasn’t something that he picked up here. … We’re giving them every opportunity to come out of this on the positive side.”