LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Schools and student-athletes are trying to figure out different ways to practice and play during the pandemic. One idea New Mexico State came up with is moving its sports teams to El Paso, a COVID hot spot.
Just about two weeks ahead of their first basketball games, NMSU leaders proposed playing and practicing in El Paso, which is currently a hotbed for COVID cases. On Tuesday, the Board of Regents shut that idea down right away. “The part about El Paso really concerned me because the numbers in El Paso are absolutely off the charts in El Paso right now. So, I think that might not be something we want to keep as an option,” said Ammu Devasthali, Vice-Chair of the NMSU Board of Regents.
NMSU put their student-athletes in an on-campus bubble several months ago. They’re even using an app to track athletes’ movements to make sure they’re not leaving it. At Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting, leaders presented three options for how they can still play and practice this season. Two of these would’ve required sending the team out of state to somewhere like El Paso or Arizona, places that don’t have quarantine rules.
In the end, the board decided against moving the team. But they also voted against following the governor’s public health order.
Under the “Return to Play” plan passed Tuesday, NMSU will conduct full team practices and players will stay in that bubble. NMSU believes they can do that safely, even in a surging county like Doña Ana. “Really create a safer environment within our campus right here in Las Cruces, as well as elsewhere throughout the system, a safer campus here than our communities around us,” said NMSU President John Floros.
On Tuesday, the athletic director said there are scheduled games set as placeholders, but that information has not yet been released. With the NMSU board passing this, UNM is now the only Division 1 school in the country that is not allowed to hold full team practices.
In response, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office tells News 13:
“There are no exceptions to the state public health order, and violations of it will result in consequences. I would expect the leaders of an institution of higher education to know that legal directives can’t just be ignored.”
The following is a statement from Acting HED Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez:
“Although many colleges, athletic directors, and student-athletes are eager to get back to the court, field or track, we must collectively commit ourselves to prioritizing public health. With cases surging at more than 1,200 cases per day, a weekly high for virus deaths, and hospital beds filling rapidly, we must make tough decisions that will save the lives of New Mexicans including students, faculty, and staff members at our state’s colleges and universities.
“Every citizen in the state must adjust to the ongoing changes at this time. Asking the State of New Mexico to make special accommodations for intercollegiate sports is a recipe for an outbreak and large-scale rapid response efforts in the event of a COVID-positive case. Positivity rates are high in our counties and low at higher education institutions because our higher education leaders, faculty, and staff members are collaborating with the state leaders to ensure that all COVID-safe practices are adhered to at all times. We must also expect that from athletics.”