Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last week urged University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University officials to suspend contact sports this fall – two months after she directly appealed to NCAA President Mark Emmert to set “firm protocols for COVID-19.”
In a May 25 letter obtained by the Journal on Friday, which was posted earlier in the day by the “Extra Points with Matt Brown” newsletter, Lujan Grisham relayed to Emmert the news of then-positive coronavirus test results among student-athletes and athletic staff at NMSU. A few days later, the school announced it was temporarily closing its weight training facility as a result of the positive tests.
With the NCAA’s Division I Council having approved voluntary workouts beginning June 1 at on-campus facilities, Lujan Grisham’s letter asked Emmert and the NCAA to “evaluate and establish firm protocols for COVID-19, including the closure of athletic facilities when necessary in addition to proper isolation and the strict social distancing of coaches, staff and student athletes on and off campus for the remainder of the summer months.”
Lujan Grisham also applauded Emmert for what she called the NCAA’s “difficult and unfortunately correct decision to cancel winter and spring championship events” in order to protect public health and safety.
While her May letter to the NCAA was an unusual step for a governor, Lujan Grisham has since taken other notably aggressive steps to limit sporting events during the pandemic. In July she made New Mexico the first state to postpone fall high school sports (other states since have followed suit), and last week the governor asked UNM and NMSU to postpone fall contact sports. The “Extra Points” newsletter called her “still the only (one) calling for the cancellations of fall college football.”
As of Friday, Regents at neither UNM nor NMSU had announced an intention to delay fall sports. Eastern New Mexico and Western New Mexico University, two NCAA Division II schools, announced this week they are calling off football and other fall sports.
Meanwhile, D2 New Mexico Highlands has taken no measures other than to delay practices for fall sports until Aug. 24 with the first competitions in September at the earliest, following decisions made by its league (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference).
Asked Friday about Lujan Grisham’s direct appeal to the NCAA, a spokesperson for the governor said via email, “The focus has been keeping people safe in all environments from day one.”
Current state health restrictions imposed by the governor’s office require anyone visiting or returning to New Mexico from out of state to quarantine for 14 days to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That edict, along with a ban on large gatherings, effectively prevents athletic teams from conducting full practices or competitions in the state.
Professional soccer team New Mexico United has thus far played all of its games on the road and postponed or eliminated scheduled home games. The team reportedly has been practicing in an isolated fashion between matches, however.
Lujan Grisham announced this week the state’s pandemic restrictions have been extended through Aug. 28.