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Mountain West sets 10-game football limit, Sept. 26 as fall sports opening date

The New Mexico Lobos played at Notre Dame last season in a ‘buy game,” a 66-14 Fighting Irish victory. The Mountain West has announced plans for a 10-game football season, which would include two nonconference games and would begin no sooner than Sept. 26. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The University of New Mexico had been promoting the football season opener for Aug. 29.

But like so many changes during this time of dealing with COVID-19 concerns, slowing the spread and myriad restrictions, the Lobos will have a new date, yet still with some uncertainty. They can begin competition no sooner than the week of Sept. 26 per an announcement from the Mountain West Conference.

The Mountain West Board of Directors agreed Wednesday on an adjusted 2020 fall sports structure for football, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country in reaction to ongoing COVID-19 developments.

All member football schools will play eight league games and two nonconference games, with the league championship game set vaguely for either Dec. 5, 12, or 19.

Women’s soccer, volleyball (women) and cross country (men and women) also may begin competition no sooner than the week of Sept. 26, and the competition will consist of conference-only play. Women’s soccer and women’s volleyball champions will be determined by regular-season competition, while options for cross country continue to be reviewed.

Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last month directed leadership at the state’s public universities to cancel all fall sports, given the ongoing public health dangers. UNM and New Mexico State have not done so, however.

A Journal message left for a spokesperson in the governor’s office late Wednesday regarding the Mountain West’s actions went unreturned.

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez would not comment to the Journal, referring only to what he said in a statement provided by the school. It read:

“This framework allows us time to ensure we have the best possible health and safety protocols in place to allow our student-athletes a safe environment to compete. We will continue to work with local authorities and the Governor’s office to stay within the guidelines put in place to keep the community safe. The safety of our student-athletes and our community is our top priority.”

Schedules for all sports are being redone, the league announced.

All fall competition in the sports of men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, swimming and diving, has been canceled, as it has for non-fall sports indoor track, softball and baseball. Continuation of workouts/training would be subject to NCAA legislation and guidance; state, local and campus parameters; and institutional determination.

Student-athletes in golf and tennis will remain eligible to compete unattached at institutional discretion and in accordance with NCAA regulations.

The league says its revised fall sports plan “will align with the requirements announced (Wednesday) by the NCAA Board of Governors. It will also continue to be evaluated in the context of the virus status on member institution campuses and within the respective communities, and will be subject to directives from local, state and federal leaders. Should further modifications become necessary, including delay or cancellation of competition, the MW Board of Directors is prepared to do so.”

UNM’s football team last week delayed the start of preseason camp that had been scheduled to begin on Friday. The Lobos continue with training and workouts consisting of small groups.

They were scheduled to open the season at home against Idaho State on Aug. 29, but that game was moved to a later date, and there was talk of starting the season against rival New Mexico State.

“I just hope we get an opportunity to play ball,” said Danny Gonzales, the UNM alumnus in his first year as Lobo head coach. “So whenever that is, that’s my hope right now: that they determine it’s safe and we can play ball.”

Gonzales is also hoping the Lobos will still play against NMSU, as one of its two non-conference games.

“You always want to play those guys,” Gonzales said. “If we can work it out, absolutely.”

The Aggies also had MWC opponents Hawaii and Fresno State on their original schedule.

The Mountain West’s action came on the same day the NCAA Board of Governors directed each division of the association to decide independently by Aug. 21 whether it will be able to safely conduct championship events in fall sports such as soccer and lower-division football.

NCAA President Mark Emmert told The Associated Press that whether college sports, and more specifically major college football, can play through the pandemic is likely to be determined not by the association or even conferences.

“It’s actually going to have to be each institution,” Emmert said. “You have to look at the huge variability around the country. When you look at what are the facts on the ground in Syracuse, New York, versus Miami, Florida, they’re very, very different. And those schools are going to have to operate consistent with their local municipal policies, their state policies, federal policies, and then also whatever they decide collectively in the conference.

“So it really isn’t the time where you can say we’re going to have one rule to govern all of football or all of any sport in that sense.”

Instead of making a broad decision across three divisions, the Board of Governors set parameters for each to make its own call.

Within hours of the board’s announcement, presidents councils from both Division II and III canceled fall sports championships and determined they will not be made up in the spring.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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