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Lobo and Aggie hoops now know of an NCAA start date — Nov. 25

Makuach Maluach (10), shown in action vs. Colorado State on March 2, 2019, and the rest of his New Mexico Lobos have a start date provided by the NCAA. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

In the middle of a week with most major pro sports already in action, college sports decided to unleash one of its busiest days since shutting it all down last March due to coronavirus concerns.

For New Mexico and New Mexico State men’s and women’s basketball, we now know the season will begin Nov. 25 after a ruling that including numerous one-time rule changes for the season was released by the NCAA Wednesday.

Both schools have made clear the men’s home-and-home rivalry will be played — in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, though dates remain unclear.

Lobos and Aggies football remain sidelined, for now, but at least UNM may have seen its chances of a fall season take an ever so slight uptick thanks to the moves of other conferences.

Wednesday morning, the Big Ten reversed course on its August decision to suspend football and will begin play in in October. By Wednesday afternoon, the Pac-12 seemed headed toward the same decision to reverse its decision to also wait until spring, though nothing had been announced.

If they did play this fall, that would leave just the MAC and Mountain West, home of the Lobos, and a handful of FBS independents like the Aggies, among those planning to play a spring season that now appears to be the one in question of even happening.

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said that while the Mountin West last month announced the season was suspended, it never meant to imply schools weren’t trying to find a safe path back on the field sooner rather than later.

“As a league, we have never stopped looking at alternatives and opportunities to play between now and spring,” Nuñez said. “It was all with the understanding the testing protocols and all safety concerns will ultimately be what is behind a decision to return to play.”

MWD Commissioner Craig Thompson had a similar sentiment in a prepared statement: “Multiple subgroups within the Conference are working daily on solutions to the existing challenges in order to facilitate a return to play for Mountain West football, and other Conference sport programs, at the earliest possible opportunity. This includes finalizing a plan for frequent, rapid response testing and continuing to monitor the status of public health directives in our MW states and communities.”

Testing, and the the ability to detect the virus sooner for players and teams to get ahead of possible outbreaks, seems to be the key to all of Wednesday’s developments.

“Testing is fundamental, really, to successfully starting and having a good basketball season,” NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt told former Journal staffer Andy Katz in an interview posted on NCAA.com. “It’s the foundation upon which this is all built.”

He added, more specifically, that antigen, or “rapid” testing being more available for programs was vital and medical experts tell the NCAA they should be even more available by mid-November.

But there still remain local hurdles due to New Mexico’s public health order. One such provision currently prohibits practicing in groups larger than 10 — a number that wouldn’t allow for full football or basketball practicing, never mind games.

While those practice provisions may be relaxed this week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who asked NMSU and UNM not to play fall sports, hasn’t changed her stance on whether playing is a good idea. But she has also maintained it would be the schools’ decision to play or not, so long as no existing state health mandates were in the way.

“The governor’s positions hasn’t changed – COVID-19 still poses an incredible risk, and we will continue to evaluate health conditions in New Mexico,” said Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s Press Secretary.

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