Aggie hoops relocates to Arizona; Lobos could decide Wednesday - Albuquerque Journal

Aggie hoops relocates to Arizona; Lobos could decide Wednesday

New Mexico’s Carlton Bragg (15) and Vance Jackson (2) battle New Mexico State’s Ivan Aurrecoechea and Johnny McCants for a loose ball last Dec. 14 at the Pit. NMSU is relocating its hoops base to Phoenix. (Jim Thompson/Journal file)

It was anything but a celebratory event.

But, in a sea of COVID anxiety and despair, an unfamiliar look of relief washed over Mario Moccia’s face during a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon.

The New Mexico State University athletic director announced the Aggies men’s basketball team will relocate to Phoenix for five weeks to proceed with the 2020-21 season because its home state’s current public health order prohibits practices, let alone games, due to the continually spiking COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations.

It’s a move neither he nor Eddie Nuñez, his counterpart at the University of New Mexico, have ever suggested would make everyone happy. Nuñez has already relocated the Lobo football team to Nevada for the season and could announce UNM basketball out-of-state relocation plans as soon as Wednesday, But it’s one both ADs say they feel confident is right for their school’s athletes.

“You know, it’s a weight off my shoulders,” Moccia said, before getting choked up and having to pause to gather himself more than once. “Look, we have a long road to go. But, you know, and you guys might think this is kind of corny, but when you promise a student athlete – a kid and his parents – you’re going to provide opportunities for them and then it looks like you can’t … um, excuse me … that takes a toll. And I’m just really, really happy that they’re gonna get this opportunity.

“… It’s tough, but I think they’re very excited that they’re gonna have a chance to, you know, practice and compete, and we’re excited for them.”

The NMSU team took a bus Tuesday night to Phoenix, where they will stay five weeks (conference play starts in January, and they could stay longer if needed) at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in Phoenix at a rate of $78,000. That arrangement was helped greatly by the availability of accommodations for lodging, practice and training facilities on site and, maybe most important, all NCAA-required COVID-19 testing worked into the $105-per-night room rate negotiated by the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission.

NMSU Deputy Athletic Director Braun Cartwright said there is also an estimated $21,000 food cost using the state’s standard per diem rate, though that’s not entirely a new cost. Scholarship athletes get many meals paid for whether in Las Cruces or Phoenix. Costs to play games (none are yet scheduled for non-conference) and transportation are not included, and details of the women’s team going to Tucson for a period of time starting this week aren’t yet released.

Both are moves approved last week by a 5-0 vote of the NMSU Board of Regents that earlier approved a plan to have the Aggies return to play, preferably in a bubble scenario, in Las Cruces. But when that was emphatically shot down after their meeting by the Governor’s Office, plan B to relocate out of state went full throttle.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Office on Tuesday made clear that relocation is not OK, especially as the state reported Tuesday a record 2,112 new cases. There have been 232 deaths in the past two weeks alone

“Both professional and collegiate matchups and practices (for a variety of sports) are being cancelled left and right because of the out-of-control pandemic,” Lujan Grisham Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett told the Journal in response to several emailed questions. “It is clear that what the NCAA and these leagues are trying to do is not necessarily working and you wonder at what point they re-consider the risk and put the country first.”

MOUNTAIN WEST SCHEDULE: The league office on Tuesday released a new 20-game conference schedule that is already being reworked due to the Lobos’ home-state restrictions. Neither UNM’s men or its women have any regular practice schedule or announced a relocation destination, The men’s schedule, with five two-game road series and five two-game home series, opens Dec. 3 and 5 at Boise State – the earliest possible games the league scheduled. UNM is unlikely to play then since it isn’t even practicing yet. The league didn’t even put the Boise State at UNM women’s game on the schedule, knowing it can’t be played then.

While UNM requested as many road games as possible early in the season, accommodating men’s and women’s requests to play on the road at the same time wasn’t possible in a mirrored scheduling format.

Home games with fans are highly unlikely anytime soon in New Mexico, and home games at all are in doubt, too.

Women’s coach Mike Bradbury remains skeptical that UNM will be able to complete a league schedule if the Lobos cannot practice or play at home this season.

“Keeping a team on the road for 10 weeks, 11 with the conference tournament, is not reasonable,” Bradbury said. “I don’t see how we can play a conference season.”

SCHEDULES: Here are links to the Mountain West MEN’S and WOMEN’S conference basketball schedules, as released Tuesday by the league.

Journal staff writer Ken Sickenger contributed to this article.

Home » Sports » College » Men's basketball » Aggie hoops relocates to Arizona; Lobos could decide Wednesday

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