Tragedy puts rivalry games between Lobos, Aggies in question - Albuquerque Journal

Tragedy puts rivalry games between Lobos, Aggies in question

A sign taped to a door at the Pit informs fans that Saturday’s game between the Lobos and Aggies was postponed after an overnight shooting on UNM’s campus left a 19-year-old dead. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The Pit sat silent on Saturday night.

And the tragic reality of why there was no basketball being played in that 56-year-old arena is far more important than the loss of a mere game.

Nobody could possibly argue otherwise as one teenaged University of New Mexico student was shot and killed and one New Mexico State University basketball player was shot in the leg and hospitalized after an early Saturday morning gunfight on UNM’s campus in an incident that clearly has far more questions than answers.

But the game’s postponement — and uncertain future — does come with a cost, both in terms of the game not played Saturday and whether it gets made up at all or if the Dec. 3 rivalry game in Las Cruces gets played at all. While no players on the Lobo roster were involved, it remains unclear what, if any, actions New Mexico State might take as a result of the incident. Nobody from the university had made a public comment as of Saturday night.

UNM, meanwhile, confirmed to the Journal it was on pace to “easily” break 15,000 fans in the Pit, which would mark the first time breaking the 15,000 mark since December 2015 and just the fourth breaking 14,000 in that time.

More specifically, UNM’s Deputy Athletic Director David Williams said when sales were halted midday Saturday after both schools agreed to postpone the game, “we were at $164,150 in single game (ticket) sales.” That money, which does not account for season tickets, will now have to be refunded.

All 40 suites in the arena had been rented out, the full 1,000 allotment of student tickets was already claimed with another batch of a few hundred set to be released around 2 p.m. and the university sat at “about” 14,400 tickets out overall when sales stopped while day-of traffic was moving steadily.

Delmar Tenorio was surprised when he pulled into the empty Pit parking lot around 3 p.m. Saturday with his children, aged 12 and 13, in tow.

“I thought, ‘Well, well, well, we’re the first ones here for the first time,'” said the 42-year-old San Felipe Pueblo resident, a lifelong Lobos fan who rarely misses a game.

Tenorio said he was shocked to read the news of the shooting ahead of the highly anticipated game.

“It was so exciting that the Pit was almost sold out, and this had to happen, unfortunately,” he said. “… But lives are more important than basketball.”

Most of the arena’s game-day employees are contract workers paid by the game who now will not be paid. And while “about 90%” of all the food ready for the game from Levy Restaurants, the university’s vendor, can be frozen and used at a later date, some will have to be used in the next day or two, and UNM was looking late Saturday for a local place to donate that food.

Initially, UNM put out a statement indicating both schools had agreed postponing at least Saturday’s game would be the best course of action, and that “details regarding a potential rescheduled contest and information on refunds will be forthcoming.”

But as the day wore on, it became clear rescheduling the game may be troublesome.

Aside from the logistics of finding room for that on the calendar, the reality is both universities would have to take significant security measures to ensure the safety of all involved should the game be rescheduled in the Pit, where the opposing team sits in the north end of the court only a few feet from the UNM student section.

Considering an Aggies player was involved — the extent of which has yet to be confirmed — in the shooting death of an UNM student doesn’t seem to make that setup practical.

As for the Dec. 3 scheduled game in Las Cruces between the two teams, while it is still on, the same question remains about the level of comfort both universities would have in playing that game in light of the still-emerging details of Saturday’s tragedy.

Just two years ago, the 2020-21 season — one in which COVID-19 health restrictions in the state of New Mexico prevented the rivalry from being played — marked the first time since World War II that the Lobos and Aggies didn’t meet on the hardwood.

For their part, neither UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez nor NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia was prepared to say Saturday what the status of the games will be, but Nuñez said he would expect such decisions to be made very early in the coming week.

Tenorio said he would have concerns about the Lobos playing in Las Cruces with the emotions of Saturday’s incident added to an already intense and hostile environment when the two teams play each other.

“I don’t think they should go at all. I mean, this is a big old rivalry and something like this can turn bigger,” he said. “… I don’t think it would be safe for the Lobos to head to Cruces this year.”

Journal staff writer Gabrielle Porter contributed to this report.

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