New Mexico State basketball teams halt practice as they await approval from state
LAS CRUCES – While official practices began on Wednesday around the country, both the New Mexico State men's and women's basketball teams halted theirs on Friday as they await the state's approval of their plan.
The news comes after a wave of requirements were issued by the state for what it calls "COVID-Safe Practices" (CSP), and it leaves the Aggies sidelined until further notice.
"There are some implications currently with the public health order and the Aggies not being able to practice basketball," New Mexico State spokesman Justin Bannister said. "So, both the university's men's and women's team will not be practicing until we get the green light from the governor's office."
New Mexico State athletics director Mario Moccia is among a small group of university representatives who are set to meet with the New Mexico Higher Education Department on Monday to discuss practice and potentially get approval for the university's plan.
Bannister told the Sun-News on Thursday that the Western Athletic Conference testing protocols will resemble the standards set forth by the Mountain West Conference that UNM established during talks with the state regarding football.
"We have a phone call where we can tell the state what we have been doing, and what the (Western Athletic Conference) will do," Moccia said. "Just as (the University of New Mexico) is working with the state so that all parties are satisfied, we have the opportunity to that Monday, as well."
Here's a look at the state-issued criteria that New Mexico State must adhere to.
Athletes are required to get tested no less than three times per week through a Polymerise Chain Reaction (PCR) test, which detects the presence of an antigen.
New Mexico State has been using the PCR test for five different scenarios of surveillance testing since Aug. 23.
Athletics has had 14 positive tests the past two weeks and 21 total. There were six positive tests the week of Sept. 27 and eight positive tests out of 122 tests the week of Oct. 4. The Aggies men's and women's basketball teams were not grouped in the latest group of positive tests, but basketball teams were tested on Wednesday as part of weekly testing in season.
Once the season begins, athletes, coaches, trainers and staff members must get tested no more than 24 hours prior to a game or scrimmage. For out-of-state competition, said individuals must get tested within 48 hours.
Once tested, these individuals are required to quarantine until they receive negative results. Those who test positive or fail to get tested are prohibited from traveling or competing.
Following the conclusion of competition, individuals are required to quarantine until they receive negative test results. Those who test positive at any point are prohibited from participating in competition and must isolate for at least 10 days. They can return once a licensed medical professional says it's safe to do so.
The NCAA currently requires just one test per week and three tests per week beginning a week before the season's start date of Nov. 25.
Despite the state's requirement, New Mexico State is currently only following the NCAA's requirement of one test per week. It is worth nothing, however, that the men's basketball team has not had a positive test since the month of July, according to Moccia.
The New Mexico State AD has repeatedly said testing will not be an issue but it is currently unclear where funding will come from.
"We're going to abide by what the (testing) guidelines are for us and UNM," Moccia said. "We will be prepared to do what we have to do."
Practice group restrictions
New Mexico State is not permitted to hold practices with the full team until its plan to adhere to the state-issued criteria has been approved, which has not happened yet.
Until then, teams are not able to practice outside the scope of the standing public health order, which limits group gatherings to five people.
Masks and social distancing
Masks must be worn at all times by players, coaches, trainers, other relevant staff members, referees and visiting teams on the sidelines. They are to be worn over the nose, mouth and chin.
The only individuals excluded from this requirement are players on the field of play. Those on the sidelines must also maintain six feet of social distancing at all times, which goes for both indoors and outdoors sports.
Other locations where social distancing is required include, but are not limited to, weight rooms, locker rooms and recovery rooms. Speaking of which, Gyms, weight rooms and recovery rooms can operate at no greater than 25 percent of the maximum occupancy.
Athletes and staff members are also only permitted to leave a residence or place of lodging to receive medical care, participate in training, practices, games, competitions, scrimmages and other team functions or attend educational programming as required by the university.
Lastly, athletes and staff members are prohibited from participating in mass gatherings outside of practice and competitions, including any form of social gatherings.
Teams can only practice if their university is located in a county with a 14-day average daily case count of less than eight per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of under 5 percent.
Teams also cannot compete in games if their numbers are above said threshold 14 days prior to the scheduled contest.
In New Mexico State's instance, Doña Ana county holds a 14-day average of 25.5 cases per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of 9.2 percent, leaving its programs unable to practice right now and unable compete if the season started 14 days from today.
All visiting team members and staff must be tested 72 hours prior to arrival or immediately upon arrival in New Mexico. Those who test positive cannot travel or compete.
Once cleared, the team must travel directly to its place of lodging and remain there until it's time to travel to the place of competition. Meals are also to be delivered to each individual's room.
It is New Mexico State's responsibility to ensure that visiting teams follow these rules.
Practices, trainings and games are to be played without spectators.
This includes, but is not limited to, recruiters, staff members not associated with the team, family members and the general public.
Moccia says New Mexico State has made plans for where fans could be seated should this restriction be changed to 10 or 20 percent capacity by the time the season rolls up. However, if the restriction doesn't change, New Mexico State plans to keep fans involved by televising as many games as possible.
"If the season started and there were no fans allowed, my goal would be to televise every home men's basketball game," Moccia said. "Aggie Vision is responsible for that, and they don't directly report to the department of athletics, but there have been some discussions with them. Whether it's Fox Sports Arizona around the country, whether it's Comcast statewide, whether it's WAC Digital or whether it's FloSports, it would be a departure from judicially picking what games to put on TV to now putting all games on TV."
Similar to teams visiting New Mexico, New Mexico State is required to travel directly to the team's place of lodging and remain there until it's time to travel to the place of competition when on the road.
Meals are also to be delivered to each individual's room, and previously-stated safety procedures must still be followed when out of state.
Should an outbreak occur, operations must be ceased and all individuals associated with the team must be tested.
Said individuals are then required to quarantine until they receive test results, and those who test positive must isolate per the guidance of the New Mexico Department of Health. This same department is responsible for determining what qualifies as an outbreak, although such a definition was not provided in the state's press release.
Disciplinary action for violations
School officials and/or all athletes are to sign a code of conduct, which will be observed at all times both on and off campus. Coaches, trainers and staff members must also adhere to it.
This code of conduct comes with disciplinary action for those who violate its protocols and procedures. A violation will result in, but is not limited to, a suspension for the entirety of the season. This includes training, practices and other team functions.