NMSU eyeing El Paso as ‘basketball hub’ due to state restrictions preventing practice, competition


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The New Mexico State men’s basketball program could soon be calling El Paso, Texas, home. Sources confirming to KTSM the New Mexico State University (NMSU) athletic department has reached out to multiple venues in El Paso to house the Aggies, as the state’s public health order currently prohibits them from playing or even practicing in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The college basketball season is set to tip-off in a little over two weeks (Nov. 25) and NMSU has only just begun practicing as a team within the last week, although, it would appear the Aggies do not have the full support of the Governor’s Office by doing so. According to a report in the Albuquerque Journal, NMSU, as well as the in-state rival New Mexico Lobos, are the only two Division I programs in the country prohibited from practicing due to local jurisdictional health guidelines. The other 355 Division I schools have been practicing since Oct. 14.

With the season looming, according to sources, NMSU is actively inquiring rental space at the El Paso County Coliseum, the Don Haskins Center on the campus of UTEP, or even a local high school as their ‘basketball hub’ for the 2020-21 season. The relocation could also include the NMSU women’s basketball team, although, there is talk of relocation to Arizona for the Aggie women.

Make no mistake about it, this is strictly a contingency plan for NMSU. The hope is — and always will be — to play at home under their own roof.

The move may seem drastic, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The University of New Mexico (UNM) has relocated their football team to Nevada to bypass New Mexico’s health order.

Meanwhile, NMSU’s football team is one of just three FBS programs not playing this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Aggies hope to play football in the spring and have already scheduled two games against FCS opponents.

Within the last month, the state comprised their “COVID-Safe Practices for Intercollegiate Sports” guidelines allowing programs to practice at full strength, compete and travel, but only if the county case limit is below a certain threshold where the university resides. NMSU, which falls in Dona Ana County, exceeds the threshold, which is why the Aggies are seemingly banned from practicing at the Pan American Center in groups larger than five.

As it pertains to the possibility of practicing in Las Cruces and playing their games outside of the state, student-athletes and coaches must quarantine for 14-days each time they leave the state for competition, which makes conducting a season impossible in that regard.

On Monday, student-athletes from NMSU, UNM, Eastern New Mexico University, Western New Mexico University, and New Mexico Highlands University drafted a three-page letter to New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham calling for, “flexibility in policy.” It is a last-ditched effort for collegiate student-athletes residing in New Mexico to get their respective seasons off the ground.

“I hope she [Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham] understands we are not trying to disregard COVID-19, or our health and safety as student-athletes and the health and safety of our community at all,” said Katharine Harston, NMSU swimmer and Student Athlete Advisory Committees (SAAC) President. “We don’t feel like we’re asking for too much here.”

“As much as student-athletes had their voting initiative, as much as they had a social justice initiative several months ago, this is one more iteration of student-athletes having a voice in what affects them,” said NMSU director of athletics Mario Moccia. “I think what makes this a little more unique is that — probably through the miracle of Zoom — they were able to all get together and work in concert with each other.”

The NMSU Board of Regents is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon where they will discuss how to move forward with a basketball season, as well as other winter and spring sports on the horizon.

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