The University of New Mexico football team will relocate next week to Las Vegas, Nevada to prepare for its Nov. 7 game at Hawaii, UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said Friday.
The Lobos are relocating — perhaps for more than one week — due to the high prevalence of COVID-19 in Bernalillo County that restricts their training to groups of no more than five.
Nuñez said he recommended the relocation plan to UNM President Garnett Stokes, who gave approval, but he added it was a collaborative decision made by multiple people.
UNM left for San Jose, California Friday afternoon to play in its season opener at San Jose State Saturday night. After the game, the Lobos will return to Albuquerque and go through testing for the coronavirus Sunday morning, Nuñez said.
They are returning to Albuquerque from San Jose because they won’t have their entire team on their trip to California, just 74 players.
They then plan to travel by planes to Las Vegas on Monday. They will stay at a hotel and train at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Their game against San Jose State originally was scheduled to be played in Albuquerque but was relocated on Monday. But then California moved to the restricted list for travel with regard to COVID-19. That complicated the Lobos’ plans because they would be required to quarantine for 14 days upon return to Albuquerque.
In Las Vegas, the Lobos won’t interact with UNLV’s football team, but UNLV is helping UNM with its stay as the Rebels are also a Mountain West Conference member. UNLV has its own practice facility separate of Sam Boyd Stadium.
After their game at Hawaii, the Lobos will take their stay and practice plans week by week.
Potentially, they could stay in Las Vegas through November because the COVID-19 positive case numbers in Bernalillo County that restrict their participation here continue to rise.
UNM’s Nov. 14 game is scheduled to be played in Albuquerque against Nevada. But the Lobos could relocate that game to Nevada’s campus in Reno.
UNM has games scheduled for Nov. 20 at Air Force and Nov. 26 at Utah State, then two games set for University Stadium — Dec. 5 against Wyoming and Dec. 12 vs. Fresno State. Nuñez stressed the program will take it week by week. He will not travel with the team.
In Albuquerque, the “COVID-Safe Practice for Intercollegiate Sports” guidelines that had made the Lobos exempt from the state’s Public Health Order restrictions required the new cases in Bernalillo County to stay below a 14-day average of 8 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate under 5%. Those thresholds have been greatly exceeded due to record-breaking positive case numbers.
Nuñez said there were three primary factors for the decision to relocate.
The first and most important reason, he said: the health and safety of the UNM student-athletes. If that can’t be maintained and accomplished, the other two reasons are insignificant, Nuñez said.
“The second reason is: I want to be able to offer these kids the opportunity to compete,” Nuñez said. “They’ve worked their tails off. They’ve been responsible.”
The third reason for the relocation involves finances, Nuñez said, weighing the expenses of UNM football against the revenue generated from MWC distributions that comes from television contracts being fulfilled.
“We’re going to be as economical as we can understanding the factors at play,” he said. “We also have to keep in mind, if we do this safe and we’re able to play, then we’re going to be able to retain the conference distribution instead of not receiving it because we chose not to play.”
The Lobos will continue to be tested for the coronavirus three times per week, through MWC protocol.
UNM football, Nuñez said, had 491 tests over this past week and had zero positives.
Since June 22, UNM Athletics has had 3,796 tests. There have been 37 who have tested positive, which equates to a 0.97% positivity rate.
There were eight UNM football players who tested positive on Oct. 14, and one other player tested positive the next week.
Nuñez added that the UNM football players in Las Vegas will maintain academic routines; their classes will be virtual, and there will be time set aside for studying.
UNM is believed to be the only program in the nation to relocate out of state to maintain training for the football season.
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