Aggies, Lobos preparing for football season as Governor calls for suspending contact sports
LAS CRUCES - New Mexico State is preparing for a football season even as the Governor of the state is actively, and publicly, calling for both FBS programs in the state to suspend contact sports.
In a letter to the leadership at all New Mexico schools, and citing a rise in COVID-19 cases in individuals between ages 20-39, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday called for both NM State and New Mexico to, “postpone collegiate athletics in this moment of escalating danger. This is an essential step we must take if we are to return to some safe and balanced new normal as quickly as possible. We must fight this virus with all the tools at our disposal – including physical distancing and the avoidance of close contact with others – so we can regain control of the spread and resume the daily activities that have been torn from us during this pandemic. The potential for contact sports later in the year or early in 2021 would of course be one of those activities.”
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As of Wednesday morning, New Mexico State had not formally responded to the Governor’s request. But a university spokesperson said in an e-mail, “We are actively monitoring this ever-changing landscape with regard to intercollegiate athletics and following the decisions being made by the NCAA, the conferences, and other associated bodies. We are also in continuous conversation with health experts in the state and on our campus. While we have not yet made any decisions with regard to altering our fall schedule, our commitment is to do what’s best for our student athletes and our programs.”
It's unclear if the state of New Mexico would provide any relief for the potential loss of football revenue as a result of cancelled Power 5 games. New Mexico State has already lost a $1.2 million guarantee game against UCLA. The Aggies are still scheduled to play at Florida in the season finale for a $1.5 million guarantee.
This week, the New Mexico State football team started the walkthrough portion of NCAA approved activities leading up the 2020 season.
"We are still doing workouts and the things we are allowed to do per NCAA rules," NM State athletics director Mario Moccia said. "I'm very anxious to hear what the NCAA says about fall championships and what the Power 5 is going to do with football. That will immediately signal the Group of 5 schools to make some decisions."
Aggies players and coaches are working in position groups, and a football has been permitted in walkthroughs, as have in person meetings, in tents, prior to workouts.
NMSU head football coach Doug Martin said walkthrough workouts consist of 11-on-11, pass scale and position group skill work, but there is no contact and the football is not being thrown to prevent injury. Coaches have the option to wear masks, Martin said.
"We have a ball, but we aren't throwing it," Martin said. "I don't want someone to get a concussion since we are not in helmets."
The Aggies would be allowed to begin fall camp on July 31, even though their Zero Week game at UCLA was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns by the Pac-12. Martin said the Aggies are scheduled to report for fully padded and contact practices at fall camp on August 5.
"Any program across the country, the players are not in shape and I'm not going to be responsible for some players getting injured, so we are going to use that week to continue conditioning and catch these guys up," Martin said.
The Albuquerque Journal was first to report the Governor's call to suspend contact sports, prompting administration from future Aggies football opponents Lafayette, Fresno State, Alabama Birmingham and Hawaii, to reach out to NMSU athletics director Mario Moccia.
The University of New Mexico football team has also continued its workout schedule.
"It is something to continue to consider and as we get further along with the NCAA and the Mountain West and when that decision is rendered where football and fall sports are going, then we will have the opportunity to sit down again with (Lujan Grisham) and be able to have conversations and see at that point, where we go from there," UNM athletics director Eddie Nunez said. "To my indication, the intent of the letter was not the workouts and what is going on currently, but moreso what would be happening in the fall."
New Mexico’s current public health order runs through July 30. It currently prohibits gatherings of five or more individuals, and the Governor's executive order calls for a mandatory 14-day isolation period if an individual travels from another state.
As a result of the Governor’s order, high school contact sports in New Mexico have been moved to the spring.
It's unclear if that is an option for college athletics.
“I know what I am asking you to contemplate is difficult and unprecedented, but these are difficult and unprecedented times," the Governor's letter stated. "Fighting COVID-19 is a team sport. I am asking each of you to join me and take it upon yourselves to do everything you can to fight COVID-19. Together we can protect all New Mexicans, and if we are successful, we can resume contact sports and re-engage in the camaraderie and joy they bring all of us in a safe manner as soon as we can.”