If preps can play in Las Cruces, why can't the Aggies?

Geoff Grammer, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
·3 min read

Mar. 6—Games are on again on high school fields and courts around the state.

The same is not yet true for all college sports in the state — specifically New Mexico State University athletics — despite their programs testing all their athletes and coaching staffs for COVID-19 three times per week to even be allowed to practice, never mind playing games.

It's an inconsistency in the state's public health order, and the Journal asked the Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about on Friday.

They're looking into it.

"We want New Mexicans to be able to resume the activities and events we enjoy as it is safe to do so," said Nora Meyers Sackett in an email. "The state is always reviewing the public health policies to ensure consistent and comprehensive guidelines, particularly as elements of the pandemic are constantly changing, and we will make sure to review the current status."

High school competitions are moving forward without any testing requirements of the students involved or any tie-in with the color-coded, case-count reopening status of the counties they played are in because they fall under the authority of the state's Public Education Department. The PED has moved forward with allowing all sports to take place provided their schools are adhering to certain in-person learning models.

When the OK was given for high school games to be played, it gave New Mexico State athletic director Mario Moccia some optimism that he would soon be able to stop having to negotiate contracts with venues in El Paso to host Aggies sports.

"It gave me tremendous hope that something similar to that (ruling for high school sports) would be handed down so we could then play our games at home," Moccia said. "Obviously, there's a comfort at home — a home field advantage, if you will. But there is money that we would be able to save by not renting venues outside of our county if that were allowed."

College athletics fall under the purview of the New Mexico Higher Education Department, which as of Friday continued to tie game-play to New Mexico's color-coded reopening model.

That means games — indoor or outdoor — are not allowed at all in a "red" county, which is defined as one with "a new COVID-19 case incident rate of greater than 8 cases per 100,000 inhabitants during the most recent two-week period and an average percent of positive COVID-19 test results over the most recent 14-day period greater than 5%."

Bernalillo County — home to the UNM Lobos — is in the "yellow" category, so games are allowed both indoors (with no fans, such as Thursday and Friday's UNM Lobo women's basketball game against Colorado State) and outdoors (such as last weekend's Lobo baseball three-game sweep of the Air Force Falcons in which about 1,300 fans showed up over two days).

But in Doña Ana County, which is in the "red" status due to a current case-rate or 21.0 per 100,000 and 6.82% positivity rate, there are two high school football games scheduled to be played next weekend in Las Cruces while the NMSU Aggies will pay UTEP to "host" Dixie State University for a football game on Sunday in the Sun Bowl.

All while Moccia is in the process of trying to secure a contract for Aggies baseball and softball games to be played in El Paso, where the men's and women's basketball teams recently played "home" games both in UTEP's Don Haskins Center and at Eastwood High School as well as the volleyball team playing matches at UTEP.