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Fundraising, cost savings elsewhere funding Aggies stay in Phoenix

Jason Groves
Las Cruces Sun-News
Donnie Tillman awaits a screen during New Mexico State's 92-54 win over Benedictine Mesa on Dec. 1, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona.

 LAS CRUCES - New Mexico State athletic director Mario Moccia expects the department's $2.5 million deficit will grow due to COVID-19. 

NM State athletics has already lost $3.4 million in revenue due to the cancellation of guarantee football games, ticket sales and cuts in university and state support.

With little revenue expected for men's basketball this season, NM State elected to move both programs to Arizona with the men's program staying at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in Phoenix for an estimated $20,000 per week. Moccia hopes to reduce the stress on the athletic program by fundraising and applying various travel, recruiting and operations savings in an effort to salvage a season.

"We are trying to cover as much as we can, but right now it's looking like it's coming out of our budget," Moccia said. 

"Mentally we were thinking that (moving to Arizona) for the non-conference would be $78,000 for hotels (and testing) and $21,000 for food. ... That's why we set our fundraising numbers at $100,000 as the goal."

More:New Mexico State basketball drops Arizona game from schedule

Since launching the donate4state campaign for both basketball programs, there have been 242 donations for $67,990.

Moccia believes that campaign will exceed the goal as it gains momentum through season ticket holders and alumni. 

"It just shows you how many alums and fans wanted the basketball teams to have an opportunity like the other 355 Division I teams that are competing," Moccia said.

Playing games in Arizona cheaper than home games at the Pan Am

The Aggies are currently 2-0 with a pair of victories over NAIA opponents. 

NM State spent approximately $5,000 total for games against Arizona Christian and Benedictine Mesa in the Phoenix area- two games that in a normal season would have been played at the Pan American Center for $37,000. 

Home games at the Pan Am average $16,000 for the athletic department with $7,000 for staffing and $9,000 per game for security. 

New Mexico State is still determining a "home" arena for Western Athletic Conference games this season. According to an early estimate, the Prescott Valley Events Center, where the Phoenix Suns G-League team plays home games, would charge New Mexico State $4,000 per game.

Among the other prospective venues are Grand Canyon University facilities, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and a larger ballroom at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa resort where the Aggies are currently practicing in a smaller ballroom. 

"I think we have identified facilities that are available, but we just don't know what dates we have games that they are available," Moccia said. "I would be hard pressed to see how we couldn't save money. It may be where there will be a significant savings on that line item."

Fewer non-conference road games saves travel expenses

New Mexico State spent $162,000 in non-conference travel last season. 

Although the Aggies had recent games in California and Arizona cancelled due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program, this week would have been the Aggies first non-conference road games with conference games slated to begin in January. 

The NCAA also prohibited recruiting travel throughout the pandemic. NM State men's basketball spent $52,000 for recruiting two years ago and $57,000 last year.

While the athletic department will be able to apply travel savings and raise money to get the basketball programs through the rest of the year, it's unclear how sustainable remaining in Arizona is for the long term. 

New Mexico State football, volleyball and women's soccer also have competitions slated for January. Moccia hopes by then to be able to practice in New Mexico and play games on the road, similar to what professional soccer team New Mexico United did to close the USL season.

"I think there is definitely an unknown for what we are going to do in the spring with our other sports," Moccia said. "In my opinion, and not knowing what the gating criteria will be, we would have to get some kind of New Mexico United exemption. If we are not able to play (games in New Mexico), at least let us practice. 

"With all of our testing and precautions think at least equivalent."