SUBSCRIBE NOW
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.

NAIA University of the Southwest joins Aggies and Lobos in relocating out of state

Jason Groves
Las Cruces Sun-News
NAIA  program University of the Southwest will move from Hobbs to Van, Texas, in order to compete in 2021.

LAS CRUCES - As varying state restrictions has forced college athletic directors to think outside the box this year, administrations in New Mexico have had to think outside the state. 

New Mexico State's basketball programs are currently staying in Arizona in hopes of playing a conference season. The University of New Mexico played an entire football season based out of Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Lobos men's basketball team is currently isolated in Levelland, Texas. 

Two of the state's Division II athletic programs have opted out of the winter sports seasons while Western New Mexico has the intention of playing an independent basketball schedule. 

The reality that the state's COVID-19 restrictions wouldn't relax anytime soon for the primary revenue sports at the Division I level left a clear path for University of the Southwest athletic director and head baseball coach Steve Appel - take his programs out of state.

"As the AD and baseball coach, I had a different perspective," said Appel, who is in his sixth year as the baseball coach and his second as the athletic director. "The hardest thing to do was send my own team home last spring. It's worth it if our other student athletes don't have to experience what mine did last spring. When it's all said and done, I think we will do it safely and they will have a great experience."

Beginning in January, the Southwest athletics programs will relocate to Sky Ranch, a Christian camping organization located in Van, Texas.

In addition to completing a sports season, Appel had an ace in the hole of sorts when he presented his plan to leadership. 

"Ninety percent of our undergrad student enrolment on campus are athletes," Appel said. "The risk of not playing sports in the future may hurt us enrollment wise."

The NAIA also does not hold the same COVID-19 testing mandates that the NCAA does, eliminating an additional cost for smaller departments. 

"There is daily screenings that we have to complete and we will be testing before we get on the bus headed to Sky Ranch," Appel said. 

Appel would not disclose the financial agreement with Sky Ranch in Van, Texas, which is outside of Tyler, Texas. Appel estimated the cost roughly $20 per athlete, per day. 

"I had hotel rates and they were feasible but I liked the idea of controlling the environment in a bubble mindset," Appel said. 

The University of the Southwest athletic programs will operate at Sky Ranch, located near Tyler, Texas.

"I was able to make it work within the realm of the budget we have in place. We had to make sacrifices. Usually we travel by charter bus, but since we don't have lengthy road trips, coaches are using a combination of vans and activity busses that our coaches will be driving. Everything is a day trip for us."

The longest Red River Athletic Conference road trip is three hours from Sky Ranch, Appel said. 

The Sky Ranch facility is located on 300 acres with 47 cabins, two indoor basketball courts with outdoor volleyball courts and soccer fields with a dining hall. 

"When the conference announced sports would be pushed back to January, my fiancé suggested a retreat," Appel said. "There was an east Texas location with a Christian mindset that we hold within our university. The people are great and our athletes and coaches will be isolated from other guests with all of the amenities that we need.

"It's been a very frustrating fall, but the kids see a light at the end o the tunnel and so do the coaches."

The Southwest basketball programs leave Hobbs on January 15 for a six-week conference schedule. The men's and women's soccer programs leave Feb. 24 for a five-week season. Volleyball leaves Hobbs on March 1, baseball leaves March 16 and softball leaves March 25.

Home games will be played at the opponents' facility and no visitors will be allowed for University of the Southwest athletes, but Appel said the athletes have bought in. 

"I met with the basketball team via Zoom because I wanted the kids aware of everything that is going on," Appel said. "They were here in the fall with the protocols that were going on. They couldn't leave campus in the fall when they weren't allowed to play. 

"They are willing to sacrifice in order to compete again."

Sports Editor Jason Groves can be reached at jgroves@lcsun-news.com or 575-202-6496. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.