Boise State-New Mexico baseball dustup in the Pit resolved ahead of hoops rematch - Albuquerque Journal

Boise State-New Mexico baseball dustup in the Pit resolved ahead of hoops rematch

Boise State coach Leon Rice and New Mexico coach Richard Pitino greet one another following the Lobos win in the Pit in January. The teams meet for a rematch in Boise on Wednesday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

When the UNM Lobos and Boise State Broncos basketball teams square off on Wednesday night in Idaho, things promise to be intense.

Just don’t expect any brush back pitches or dugout-clearing brawls.

Both schools, and the league office, say they’ve all played nice with one another and cooperated in the aftermath of an incident from a month ago in the Pit — when the Lobos won an 81-79 overtime thriller — in which Boise State coach Leon Rice said the Lobo baseball team was intentionally outside his team’s locker room and could have started a “riot” at halftime with his team.

Witness accounts in a report UNM submitted to the Mountain West Conference, which included police officers in the area, seem to indicate the closest anything came to a physical altercation was when Rice himself “responded by pinning (Lobo baseball player Kam Walton) to the wall by going chest to chest with him” after the baseball players were talking trash and booing his team.

Rice went down the hall and had a lengthy discussion with a game official as that referee walked down the Pit ramp and onto the court, where the announced crowd of 14,566 fans in the Pit could see a visibly agitated Rice making an impassioned plea for something to be done.

UNM has acknowledged its baseball team, which was being recognized on the court during the first media timeout after halftime, gathered too early in the hallway near the Broncos’ locker room — where they weren’t supposed to gather until the Broncos returned to the court.

Rice said in a postgame interview with Boise media, including a video viewed on Twitter 115,000 times posted by B.J. Rains of Bronco Nation News, that he felt UNM’s baseball team was there intentionally – “Yeah, they did it on purpose” – and that a “riot” nearly broke out. He said of UNM’s apology it “doesn’t help if there’s a brawl” and added the matter “needs to be addressed by the Mountain West.”

So, the Journal filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request for correspondence between UNM and the league office to see if the matter was addressed, as Rice requested.

“I have great confidence the return contest between the two institutions scheduled for February 22 in Boise will be conducted without incident,” Mountain West Commissioner Gloria Nevarez wrote in a memo to league Athletic Directors on Jan. 24 after reviewing the incident and reports filed by game day personnel at UNM.

The memo, obtained as part of the records request, commended both schools “for their professionalism and communication” in addressing the matter and noted it was a good opportunity for all schools to “re-emphasize … preventive game management procedures.”

She also noted the conference conducted a “thorough review” of the matter and, while there were portions of the public records that were redacted, there was no indication in the released portions of the documents that any discipline was meted out as a result.

The Journal asked Boise State Athletic Director Jeremiah Dickey and Rice, through the team’s media contact, for comment.

“We stand behind the Mountain West’s review of the matter” Dickey told the Journal in an email. “I appreciate Eddie (Nuñez, UNM’s AD), Gloria and their respective staffs, as well as our team, for acting swiftly to reach a resolution and allow everyone to move forward productively.”

He also noted he was “looking forward to a great game Wednesday night!”

UNM’s incident report

UNM’s incident report included photos showing the visiting locker room at the Pit’s mid-ramp area located near a stairwell that goes up to the concourse area of the arena.

It has been used for years by large groups that gather in the midramp area during games when they are to be walked down the Pit ramp and recognized or honored on the court during timeouts.

In this case, the person gathering the baseball team was working his first Lobo game and the team went down the stairs before they should have.

UNM administrators acknowledged to Rice in person that night that the team never should have been in that area at that time, but witnesses at the scene also told the Journal that night it never appeared as though a fight was close to happening. The incident report makes similar statements:

“Police officer Camacho, who was stationed in the area approached the confrontation and attempted to calm everyone down but did not feel the need to report the incident. UNM had four police officers in the mid-ramp at the time,” the report stated.

UNM’s report to the league also included the following, partly noted above:

“According to (UNM’s marketing employee and two baseball players), head BSU men’s basketball coach, Leon Rice came out of the locker room and began cursing at the baseball team. The assumption is that Coach Rice believed his players were involved in the confrontation at the front of the hallway. They were not. He began pushing his way through the crowd, telling the baseball team to ‘get out of his hallway.’ Kam Walton responded that this is UNM’s hallway to which Coach Rice responded by ‘pinning’ Kam to the wall by going chest to chest with him. No baseball player reacted to the action of Coach Rice. Coach Rice then made his way through the hallway and began a heated exchange with the game official.”


New Mexico at Boise State, 8:30 p.m., FS1, 770 AM/96.3 FM

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