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Now, state indoor venues have a chance to host games, minus fans

Lobo Shaiquel McGruder, left, gets fouled by Boise State’s Mallory McGwire in action last February. UNM has an option of trying to play its last scheduled home game in the Pit, but must decide if it makes sense to do so. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

On second thought, maybe they can play some games indoors, we learned Thursday.

When Wednesday’s news of games being allowed again in the state of New Mexico depending on a county’s case-count status and the type of venue, it seemed clear in the wording of the health order that a “yellow” county like Bernalillo – home of the New Mexico Lobos – would not be allowed to have indoor competitions.

That meant no Lobo volleyball, no last-minute Pit game for the Lobo women’s basketball team that is set to play a designated home makeup game next week against league-leading Colorado State.

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said on Wednesday “they cannot (be played)” in a video conference with reporters. “But we are still having active conversations with the Governor’s office and seeing if there’s any way we can find a way to do so.”

Then came Thursday and communication from the New Mexico Higher Education Department that a “yellow” county can, in fact, host home games, without fans, in the category of “large entertainment venues,” the Pit included.

The confusion stemmed from the original language of the order stating “yellow” counties could have 25% outdoor capacity in “large entertainment venues.” Indoors, the order stated, it could only happen “for the limited purposes of recording and broadcasting entertainment, but shall in no event permit any live, in person audience.”

Neither UNM nor NMSU interpreted that to mean a game could be played indoors. And it was hard to misinterpret the informational slide Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham herself used in her Thursday COVID update that read, for places like the Pit in “yellow” counties: “indoor not permitted.”

Nevertheless, the messaging is clear now to UNM and NMSU. Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett wrote to the Journal, “At the Yellow Level, collegiate sports venues may hold games indoors for recording or broadcasting with no spectators present.”

Nuñez told the Journal on Thursday he is appreciative that the NMHED was so quick to clear up any confusion or misinterpretation on what is and isn’t allowed so UNM now can focus on the possibility of playing at home.

Now, UNM must determine if it wants to try to host a women’s basketball game next week – after a year with no Pit basketball – or maybe play the make-up series late next week in Las Vegas, Nev., where both teams will be for the Mountain West Conference tournament starting March 7.

Wherever it is played, it will be recorded and streamed via the league’s website, TheMW.com.

Lobo volleyball, however, is good to go in the Pit or Johnson Center, Nuñez said, though a determination on which venue has not been made.

SHE SAID IT: Asked Thursday about high school sports being married to the requirement of in-person or hybrid learning – the primary reason Albuquerque Public Schools as the state’s largest school district isn’t moving forward with sports – Lujan Grisham said she believes it can happen safely.

“Kids are ready to play sports, engage in sports and they deserve this opportunity,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’ve all worked so hard to get here. So I haven’t given up. We’re going to come to a quick resolution to this issue.”

PLAY BALL: This weekend’s UNM Lobo baseball series with Air Force, originally scheduled to be played in Amarillo, sold on Thursday about 200 tickets for Saturday’s doubleheader and 250 tickets for Sunday’s game with the Falcons, according to Deputy Athletic Director David Williams.

UNM established 624 as the number of tickets it is making available each day based on a 25% capacity of the recently renovated Santa Ana Star Field. Williams said about 150 tickets each day were set aside for players and coaches to have first dibs on for family and friends, but any not claimed by noon on Friday will be sold to the general public.

He added in-person sales will be available each day, even if all tickets were sold on an in-person wait list basis. UNM expects not all fans will be able to stay all Saturday and those who leave can then have their tickets made available.

Full concessions won’t be available, so UNM is relaxing this weekend the usual “no outside food or drink” policy. Corporate partner Pepsi, Williams said, will provide free refreshments.

THAT’S WAC: With the uncertainty of Doña Ana County’s status up in the air, the April 1-3 WAC volleyball tournament that was supposed to be hosted by the Aggies was officially moved on Thursday to Orem, Utah, home of Utah Valley University.

SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE? The state’s reopening guidelines provide for a 14-day grace period for businesses in counties moving from yellow to red to ease back into the new, tougher restrictions.

New Mexico State, which did not play football in the fall, opened its spring season this past Sunday with a “home” game against Tarleton State in El Paso’s Sun Bowl.

When news broke Wednesday morning that college teams could again have home games, the Aggies, then in “yellow” Doña Ana, had thoughts of maybe getting to play its March 7 home game against Dixie State in Aggie Memorial Stadium instead of the Sun Bowl.

But within a few hours, the state updated its map of county statuses and Doña Ana returned to “red.” And Thursday the New Mexico Higher Education Department determined the game would not be allowed in Aggie Memorial Stadium – with or without fans.

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