LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) – While New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico are continuing to prepare for the upcoming fall sports campaign, including the college football season amidst the pandemic, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham penned a letter to both schools asking them to suspend contact sports in the fall.
The letter, issued to all colleges and universities in New Mexico on Tuesday and obtained by KTSM on Wednesday, cited a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in people ages 20-39. In turn, Lujan Grisham’s letter asked both NMSU and UNM 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.”
The full letter from Lujan Grisham to schools in New Mexico can be found below:
The letter from Lujan Grisham continued, “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.”
Despite the letter being quite clear in what the governor is expecting of the state’s universities this fall, NMSU and UNM continued with workouts on Wednesday, preparing for the upcoming 2020 season. NMSU football began walk-through practices with coaches present this week; official practices are currently slated to begin in August.
The governor does not have any legal stance to force the schools into suspending athletics, but she could enforce strict public health guidelines to make it difficult for universities to conduct athletics.
An NMSU spokesperson said the school has yet to respond officially to the governor’s request, but said in a statement, “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.”
New Mexico State athletic director Mario Moccia told KTSM on Wednesday that the university is awaiting guidance from the NCAA, as well as what Power 5 conferences and Group of 5 conferences plan to do with regards to a 2020 FBS season. The Big Ten and the Pac-12 have already announced plans to play a conference-only slate, while many FCS conferences have moved all fall sports and activities to the spring.
“We anticipate that we’re very close to hearing what the NCAA is going to do,” Moccia said. “That’s going to lead us to our next step in the decision-making process.”
Moccia said that the athletic department plans to fall in line with whatever decisions university brass, including president John Floros and chancellor Dan Arvizu, make in regards to fall sports at NMSU.
“Ultimately we’re going to take our cues from our leadership here at New Mexico State,” Moccia said. “The board will ultimately make the decisions for our institution, then we’ll accept whatever they decide.”
University of New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nunez told reporters on Wednesday that the Lobos are also continuing workouts currently despite the governor’s letter.
Like NMSU, the Lobos athletic brass are awaiting word from the NCAA, as well as the Mountain West Conference, to see what decisions are made at those levels.
“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘I think we all hope and would like there to be sports,'” Nunez said. “We also have to keep in mind the health and safety of everyone involved.”
The news of the governor’s letter to the universities was first reported Tuesday night by Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal. New Mexico’s current public health orders run through July 30 and prohibit gatherings of five or more people and mandate a 14-day quarantine upon entering the state from somewhere else.
Moccia told KTSM that given the landscape of COVID-19 across the country, he is less confident a season will be played.
“My heart would love to play, my head says that the numbers and trends don’t look tremendous for team sports right now,” Moccia said.
While New Mexico pushed back the start of high school fall sports, it is not clear if that will happen at the collegiate level. Moccia told KTSM last week that it was not yet clear if a fiscal bailout from either the state or the school would come if schools lose out on revenue from lost college football games.
New Mexico State is already likely to lose $1.2 million from the canceled UCLA season-opener and could see the same fate for the Florida game (set to bring in $1.5 million) if the SEC elects to cancel non-conference games too.
“I know what I am asking you to contemplate is difficult and unprecedented, but these are difficult and unprecedented times,” the Governor said in her letter. “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.”