Athletic directors for both the New Mexico Lobos and New Mexico State Aggies both can say two things with certainty.
First, they intend to play men’s and women’s basketball this season.
Second, due to the well-publicized public health order preventing them from fully practicing or playing in their home state, their teams will in fact relocate out of state in order to make that happen.
At least for now.
“We are moving forward to do what we need to do to play basketball,” said UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez, who has already relocated the Lobo football team to Las Vegas, Nev., until further notice to play its season.
The criteria for a basketball move, like football, he said, include finding a fit for safety, cost and location relative to playing games.
“There’s a lot of options, from Texas to California,” he said, adding he hopes to know by early next week.
He did not offer any cost estimates.
For the Aggies, Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas, Nev., are the three front-runners, the Journal has confirmed. NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia said he hopes to know by this weekend where his teams will be going. He said all members of the department and both coaching staffs are turning over every rock to get the best fit for safety, facilities, and finances, And they intend to make sure that wherever they go, they can either host games or be close enough to drive to play them in the next several weeks. (Western Athletic Conference play starts in January.)
It appears the Lobos women’s team is zeroing in on a tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., for late November, which would open up the option of spending a couple weeks there. They perhaps might even play their rivalry game with NMSU and get in about five or six games over a couple of weeks there before returning to Albuquerque by the second week of December. League play starts in late December.
Of course, that all hinges on the increasing uncertainty of a college basketball season being played at all, or at least by the Nov. 25 start date the NCAA established.
That’s two weeks later than the original start date with the hopes of it being safer to play by the Thanksgiving break when college campuses largely would be empty with students gone home for the holidays.
Instead, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed nationwide and in New Mexico in particular. The state on Thursday reported a record 1,753 new cases and 18 deaths connected to the virus.
The Ivy League, which was the first to cancel its conference tournament this past March due to COVID-19, announced Thursday the men’s and women’s basketball seasons are now canceled.
The Lobo men’s team confirmed Thursday morning two Lobo players tested positive over the weekend, putting the whole team in quarantine, Everyone on staff and the team other than those two players since have had two negative PCR tests.
But the two positive tests led to a “pause” in activities for a team that has had just three full-contact practices so far, head coach Paul Weir said.
“Trying to get them even remotely prepared is our biggest challenge right now,” Weir said Thursday on the Mountain West Conference virtual media conference call.
COUNTY NUMBERS: The state’s “COVID-Safe Practices for Intercollegiate Sports” guidelines mandate the teams cannot practice if the county they reside in are deemed “red” by the New Mexico Department of Health, which defines “red” as being a 14-day average daily case count higher than eight per 100,000 and a positivity rate higher than 5%.
For UNM, Bernalillo County’s latest 14-day average shows 40.6 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate of 9.9%.
For NMSU, Doña Ana County is at 84.2 and 18.1%.
UNM last week skirted that restriction by having its women’s team practice three times and men’s twice at Moriarty High School in neighboring Torrance County.
Aside from the fact that a governor’s spokesman made clear to the Journal last week that was not allowed, as of Thursday’s update on the DOH COVID-19 dashboard, Torrance County has now moved from “green” status to “red” and isn’t an option.
And there’s red all around. Bernalillo County is now surrounded by five “red” counties, including Torrance. Doña Ana County is bordered by three “red” counties in the state, Mexico to the south, and to the southeast, El Paso – which currently is among the world’s hot spots for virus outbreak.