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Lobos get OK from state to begin hoops practice; Aggies do not

Lobo basketball coach Paul Weir during a practice in July 2017. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The Lobos are a go.

The Aggies aren’t quite there, yet.

The college basketball world – at least that of the Division I variety – gets to tip off practice on Wednesday for what appears destined to be an unpredictable 2020-2021 season that has already been pushed back a couple weeks amid ongoing coronavirus concerns.

But in New Mexico, as a new round of tighter public health order restrictions is on the way per an announcement from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the NCAA guidelines are hardly the only hurdle to clear before the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University men’s and women’s basketball teams can hit the courts with full-contact training in groups of more than 10 people at a time.

“Any institution whose plan to adhere to the COVID-safe practices for sports has been approved is required to conduct PCR (nasal swab) testing three times per week, regardless of whether it is before or after the official season start date,” said Nora Meyers Sackett, Press Secretary of Lujan Grisham. “Currently only UNM Football and Basketball have received a green light to expand practices in accordance with the CSPs (Covid-Safe Practices).”

The men’s and women’s Division I seasons start Nov. 25, and teams are allowed, over 42 days, a maximum of 30 full practices. It is unclear when NMSU might get full clearance from the state.

For UNM, the approval comes after several weeks of working closely and directly with state health officials on a plan that started with getting the go-ahead for football to resume practices and a season – once the Mountain West Conference voted to play in the fall after all.

The conference also agreed to pay for three-times-a-week PCR testing for its 12 football-playing schools.

Last week, the Governor’s Office released to the Journal the four-page agreement after negotiating with UNM for football. The “Covid-Safe Practices for Intercollegiate Sports” document stipulates that not only should players be tested “no fewer than three times per week,” but so, too, should coaches, trainers and staff members regularly around the teams.

For basketball, that cost will fall on the schools, but the benefit of already having had its stringent safety plan and testing procedures approved by the state made the move easier.

“We will continue working closely with the Governor’s Office and follow their guidance as the season progresses and continue to do everything we can to make sure we’re keeping the student-athletes and everyone else around them as safe as possible,” said UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez.

For NMSU, however, men’s and women’s basketball were planning to adhere to weekly PCR testing, which is what NCAA guidelines for basketball require. But the university has not yet set up a written plan approved by the state as UNM had to do more than a week ago when football practices started. (Aggies football, as an FBS independent, is not playing this fall.)

NMSU’s basketball teams play in the Western Athletic Conference, but as of Tuesday there was no indication the WAC would be paying for any testing requirements of its members.

NMSU had already planned on testing basketball players on Wednesday, though it’s unclear when the next set of testing was scheduled. Athletic director Mario Moccia said Tuesday he would talk with school administration members to make sure they work with the Governor’s Office and do whatever is necessary for a safe return to practice, and eventually games, for Aggies basketball.

TRAVEL QUARANTINE: Tuesday’s news out of Santa Fe also included a revised Executive Order, basically bringing back a part of the old travel quarantine restriction. It states anybody entering New Mexico from out of state is required to adhere to a 14-day travel quarantine.

But the “CSP” document already agreed to for Lobo football will apply for travel for all college teams, including UNM and NMSU basketball teams and their opponents, the state said, which means documentation of a negative test within 72 hours of travel will allow for college teams to travel and play.

“Collegiate athletics will be governed by the COVID-Safe Practices that the state and higher education institutions have agreed upon, which permit, in accordance with rigorous and regular testing protocols, individuals to travel here and compete,” Meyers Sackett said.

And Tuesday’s news out of Santa Fe that made clear the restrictions are tightening up even more come as various criteria the state has established to monitor and base restrictions on have almost all been heading in the wrong direction in recent weeks. There has been a dramatic spike in positive COVID-19 tests (the positivity rate is now 5.3% per data released by the state on Tuesday), new cases per day are more than four times what they were last month and hospitalizations due to the virus are on the rise.

Those tightened restrictions include 10 p.m. closings for any business serving alcohol. And unlike the college athletes, individuals arriving in New Mexico from high-risk states will be required to quarantine for 14 days, even if they have a negative test. That eliminates a previous exemption in a separate travel-related order.

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