University of New Mexico wide receiver Elijah Lilly and defensive back Brandon Burton are among several Mountain West Conference football players who formed a group called Mountain West United that has established conditions to ensure safety with regard to playing the upcoming season amid COVID-19 concerns.
Mountain West United, #MWUnited, is a group that is similar to the coalitions formed in the Pac-12 and Big Ten.
ESPN.com reports that #MWUnited includes more than 300 Mountain West players and came together through a group message in one day. That would mean on average 25 players per team in the 12-school league.
The Journal, however, has been able to confirm only Lilly and Burton as being members of the group. The Journal contacted 10 others who said they are not, and numerous others who had not responded as of late Wednesday.
Neither UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez nor head football coach Danny Gonzales responded to requests for comment.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has notified leadership at all the state’s public universities of her wish that they don’t play fall contact sports. She reiterated that stance during a Thursday news conference. UNM and New Mexico State have not announced decisions.
Mountain West United began to appear on social media on Thursday night, a day after the Mountain West Conference decided to delay fall sports, including football, which will start no sooner than Sept. 26 and plans to play a schedule of eight league games and two nonconference games with a league championship.
Lilly tweeted support of #MWUnited and its concerns on Thursday night.
“It is difficult to believe that hundreds of 17 to 22-year-old college students are capable of social-distancing effectively enough to travel state-to-state for 10 weeks,” the players’ statement reads.
In the #MWUnited letter, the players commended their coaches for adjusting to the pandemic and the guidelines, but said they “do not feel comfortable playing teams from other states.”
— Ossai🇳🇬 (@OhSoFly__) August 7, 2020
The Mountain West responded with a statement, saying it will “develop comprehensive testing and reporting procedures” and that “nearly all of the issues which have been raised are already being addressed.”
Earlier this week, the NCAA said schools would be required to keep on scholarship any athlete opting out of this season because of concerns about COVID-19. No decision has been made on whether those athletes will be allowed to retain their eligibility, but the NCAA said it wanted a plan from each of its three divisions by Aug. 14.