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No fall sports to be played at New Mexico State

New Mexico State football, led by coach Doug Martin, center, reached a high in 2017 when it won the Arizona Bowl in Tucson over Utah State. On Thursday, New Mexico State announced it won’t be playing football, or any other fall sports, because of the coronavirus. (NMSU photo)

There wasn’t just one reason, Mario Moccia said. There were many.

In the end, a million reasons wouldn’t have made it any easier for the New Mexico State athletic director on Thursday when he informed hundreds of athletes the Aggies will not play football or any other sports this fall.

“Today was, obviously, a very disappointing day,” Moccia said. “As an athletics administrator, maybe the toughest one in my tenure to tell a large number of sports about postponement.”

NMSU football competes as an Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) independent and was down to just four games left on its schedule after other conferences and teams, including rival New Mexico, had already made their fall postponement decisions known. Other Aggies fall sports— volleyball, women’s soccer and cross country — officially were postponed by the Western Athletic Conference Board of Directors’ decision to do so league-wide.

By the end of Thursday, the NCAA followed suit, suspending all fall sports it controls until 2021. (The NCAA does not oversee the championships for FBS football.)

A spring reboot of NMSU’s suspended sports, Moccia said, is the hope. A decision on winter sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, has not yet been made.

Moccia noted these factors in the decision: Ongoing concerns of COVID-19 spread, the state’s 14-day travel quarantine mandate that would make playing out of state or having teams come to Las Cruces to play impossible, and concern over long-term effects of contracting the virus.

In the past week, there has been news of studies showing a higher prevalence of myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle associated with viral infections — in patients who tested positive for COVID-19. Those studies have been cited by others conferences, such as the Big Ten, in their reasoning for fall season postponements.

“Recently, there has been more and more talk about potential long term health issues regarding COVID,” said Moccia. “And, while you know this is a very divisive time with a lot of different pieces of information coming at you, the reality is that is a concern that many people had in our medical area with enlargement of the heart, etc.”

Moccia said no plans for furloughs or personnel cuts have been made, but the loss weeks ago of “money-games” in football against UCLA and Florida to the tune of about $2.5 million in budgeted revenue already are of great concern.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wrote a letter in July to the state’s athletic departments and regents asking that they not play fall sports. She also wrote in May to NCAA President Mark Emmert asking the same.

NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said Thursday that while he and UNM President Garnett Stokes recently talked with staff from the Governor’s office, financial help did not come up. Lujan Grisham’s Press Secretary, Nora Meyers Sackett, told the Journal in an email Thursday night such consideration will be given.

“The governor is glad to see universities and conferences putting public health and the health and safety of their athletic communities and university communities first and foremost, difficult as those decisions are,” Sackett wrote. “Certainly the state recognizes the potential financial impacts of the pandemic on colleges and universities and as we approach the 2021 legislative session and the next fiscal year those issues will be front of mind.”

As for what a spring schedule for suspended fall sports might look like, more uncertainty abounds.

NMSU’s volleyball team went 27-4 in 2019 and had NCAA Tournament advancement hopes this season. As veteran coach Mike Jordan lamented, the team had lined up a non-conference home schedule with an unusually high number of power-conference visitors — Notre Dame, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Auburn.

“I would love to just cut and paste our fall schedule into the spring,” Jordan said, “but we don’t know what’s going to happen. That in and of itself is problematic. … Heck, I think if they said you’ve got to play on ice, we’d probably be happy to do that.”

Whatever form college volleyball might take in the spring, there aren’t the same health concerns football may face if it tries to play in the spring and again in the fall 2021, assuming a pre-COVID normal.

“If you’re going to play next fall, I think it’s really hard to play, obviously, a full schedule in the spring, also,” NMSU football coach Doug Martin said. “… I just worry about the health of the players physically — not from COVID, but just physically, injuries and those types of things.”

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