UPDATE: New Mexico and New Mexico State have now exchanged security plans for football and men’s basketball games as of Monday night, seemingly opening the door to play the men’s basketball rivalry games in Albuquerque and Las Cruces in 2023-24.
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – After three days of back-and-forth regarding security plans and questions over whether the New Mexico-New Mexico State men’s basketball series would continue, the state’s Higher Education Department weighed in on Friday.
The HED wants the rivalry games to be played in 2023-24 and for them to be scheduled with an open dialogue between the two schools, after questions arose in the last week about whether the series would be scheduled for men’s basketball this year. The HED wants the schools to prioritize safety and share security plans for the contests to ensure player and fan safety is a top priority.
“The safety and security of student athletes, staff and spectators must be the top priority of any program and venue that hosts intercollegiate athletic events, and providing a written safety plan is a prudent and reasonable measure, especially considering the violent incident that took place last year,” HED Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said in a statement sent to KTSM on Friday. “The New Mexico Higher Education Department expects New Mexico State University athletics to fully cooperate with the University of New Mexico’s request to provide written documentation of safety protocols to ensure that the tradition of rival games between NMSU and UNM can safely continue.”
The action from the HED comes after KTSM confirmed an Albuquerque Journal report on Tuesday night that a two-game series that has been played almost nonstop for a century could be in jeopardy due to the same security concerns that cancelled the series in 2022-23.
The two schools have not yet come to an agreement regarding safety concerns after tensions arose following a deadly shooting on Nov. 19, 2022, involving former NMSU basketball player Mike Peake. As KTSM has reported, Peake was injured and – in self-defense – killed 19-year-old UNM student Brandon Travis after Travis and three other UNM students attacked him on UNM’s campus in the hours before the Aggies and Lobos were set to play the first game of the rivalry series.
The shooting was allegedly in retaliation for a brawl at the UNM-NMSU football game on Oct. 15, 2022, involving the UNM students, Peake and other NMSU basketball players. The three UNM students other than Travis involved in the attack on Peake were all charged with multiple crimes; KTSM reported last week that the Bernalillo County District Attorney ruled that no one from NMSU’s side would be charged with a crime in relation to the shooting.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nunez told the Journal that the schools have been discussing additional security measures for over a month. Nunez wants a written plan from NMSU and athletic director Mario Moccia detailing how NMSU will take additional steps to ensure the safety of fans at the Pan American Center, before agreeing to play a game in Las Cruces.
NMSU said in a statement on Wednesday that police chiefs for both schools had spoken multiple times in the last few months regarding safety plans.
“We know these games mean a lot to the people of New Mexico. Unfortunately, we’re not sure what the holdup has been on getting these matchups scheduled. The NMSU Police Department has had numerous conversations with the UNM Police Department over the past few months to share our safety and security plans,” the statement reads. “Additionally, our NMSU Police Chief planned on reaching out directly to the UNM Athletic Director later today. Our personnel have national-level training, and our game management processes meet industry standards for events of this magnitude. We’re hopeful we’ll be able to see our friends from Albuquerque in Las Cruces later this year.”
NMSU’s chief spoke with Nunez this week regarding NMSU’s safety plans for the games and a written plan is currently being constructed. Moccia said it is expected to be conveyed to UNM by next Monday or Tuesday at the latest.
Moccia told the Las Cruces Sun-News on Thursday that the school had been planning to send UNM its security plans even before the HED got involved. The school plans to increase security and use metal detectors when the Lobos play at the Pan American Center next season. The Aggies increased security for nine home games following the shooting during the 2022-23 campaign.
In return for sending UNM a written plan for security at the Pan Am, NMSU requested the Lobos’ security plans for the Sept. 16 football game between the two schools in Albuquerque. Moccia said NMSU is in the process of reviewing it.
The games have not yet been scheduled for 2023-24, but there is still over five months until the start of the new college basketball season. Moccia told the Sun-News on Thursday that he now feels that the games will be played and reiterated that sentiment to KTSM on Friday.
“Since we have played two games since the beginning of the rivalry and only the pandemic and last year stopped it, it is my anticipation that with an acceptable security plan, both games should be able to be played,” Moccia said. “If security plans are accepted, I don’t know why they wouldn’t get played.”