Let’s call it the Pinto Pit.
John B. Salvo gymnasium at Moriarty High School — home of the Pintos, in Torrance County — has become the new, very temporary practice home this week for the University of New Mexico men’s and women’s basketball teams.
The Lobo women’s basketball players and coaches stayed at a hotel in Moriarty Wednesday and Thursday night and the men plan to do the same Friday and Saturday night with the hopes of each getting in at least three practices each at a time they otherwise aren’t allowed to do so with the NCAA basketball season starting in 20 days.
The NCAA allows its 357 Division I programs to conduct 30 full practices over the 42 days prior to the opening day of the season, but the Lobo men’s and women’s teams held one full practice each – Oct. 15 and Oct. 14, respectively.
“From our perspective, we’re trying to give our student athletes – just like we did with football – we want to take the same approach and give them every opportunity, in a safe environment, to be able to practice and adequately prepare for their season ahead,” said UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez.
The move comes with a harsh, hard-to-ignore backdrop of continuing record-setting COVID-19 case spikes in New Mexico in daily case counts, hospitalizations and deaths.
Like with Lobo football, which is now practicing in Nevada in an effort to play at least this week’s game at Hawaii and next week’s game against the University of Nevada, Nuñez made the call, he says, only after consulting with the coaches, UNM’s medical advisers and university leadership.
State officials drafted the “COVID-Safe Practices for Intercollegiate Athletics” guidelines last month. They include stringent safety protocols and regular PCR testing requirements which, if agreed to by UNM and New Mexico State, would make their teams exempt from the public health order and allow them to practice and play their sports. But one clause in the document stated the school is located “in a county with a 14-day average daily case count of fewer than eight per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of under 5%.”
It is unclear if the spirit of the COVID-Safe guidelines was that a team must reside and practice in a green county or if specifically address of the university has to be in a green county for the basketball teams to practice. Email requests Thursday for clarificaton to the Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Higher Education Department were unreturned.
As of Thursday afternoon, the most recent data on the New Mexico Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard show Bernalillo County’s numbers at 27.9 per 100,000 and 7.3% – easily putting it in the “Red” category.
So the Lobos, with the Nov. 25 date set as the earliest to open the season, looked for “Green” and found Moriarty High School. UNM has not announced an opening opponent or date.
“UNM athletics reached out to us last week trying to determine if we would be willing to work with them to provide facilities for the men’s and women’s Lobo basketball teams for workouts in a green county,” said Moriarty-Edgewood School District Superintendent Teresa Salazar in an email to the Journal. “MESD had many questions about their health protocols and concerns about introducing 50+ student-athletes daily to our community. UNM shared their COVID safe practices which included testing of all team members and coaches 3x per week. They also agreed to house their students in Moriarty during the practice days to minimize exposure (and not travel back and forth to Bernalillo County). … We are happy to be able to help our neighbors and keep them healthy in NM.”
UNM is paying a daily facility rental fee of $250 per day for six days plus hotel costs in Moriarty. All players are taking classes online. UNM will also provide all sanitization of the gym, annex gymnasium and weight room.