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NMSU to allow athletics to return in a ‘bubble’, but governor’s office warns there will be ‘consequences’

wac tournament
An archive photo of the NMSU men's basketball team winning the WAC tournament.

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- The New Mexico State University Board of Regents voted unanimously Tuesday to allow student athletics to resume, but the governor's office is already pushing back.

"We put our heads together and figured out, 'Hey. What exactly can we do?'" Athletic Director Mario Moccia told ABC-7.

"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," wrote Stephanie Rodriguez, the state's Acting Higher Education Department Secretary.

She warned that playing in large groups and traveling for competition could worsen southern New Mexico's existing outbreak.

"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," Rodriguez wrote.

To minimize risk to student athletes and prevent outbreaks, NMSU implemented a 'bubble' concept, similar to the NBA.

Student athletes were required to move out of their apartments to single unit dorms, move their classes online, receive food only at their doorsteps and have an app on their phones that tracks their locations.

"Both the men and the women will not be able to go home for Thanksgiving," Moccia said. "We're placing an incredible burden on our student athletes. We're very acutely aware of the mental health aspect that goes along with this."

Moccia told ABC-7 that out of 357 Division 1 basketball schools, only two have not been allowed to practice: New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico.

"It really puts stress on us to be able to perform when these restrictions are lifted, because everybody else is at that point where they're able to practice together and we're not," explained Katherine Harston, a swimmer and president of NMSU's student athlete advisory committee. "That puts us behind."

Currently, New Mexico will only allow sports teams to hold practice or compete if the schools are located in a county with:

  • A 14-day average daily case count of less than eight per 100,000
  • A test positivity rate under 5

On Tuesday, Doña Ana County registered 57.90 average daily cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 16.60 percent, according to the state's Covid-19 Public Dashboard.

"There are no exceptions to the state public health order, and violations of it will result in consequences," wrote a spokeswoman for the governor's office. "I would expect the leaders of an institution of higher education to know that legal directives can't just be ignored."

On Monday, student athletes from five universities across New Mexico penned a letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, asking her to allow them to hold practices and play.

According to the letter, the student athletes say the positivity rates in their counties are much higher than that among student athletes.

"Us student athletes have been really trying to make sure that we are creating safe environments on our campus," Harston said. "We've been doing a great job of that."

Click here to watch the entire meeting.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Article Topic Follows: New Mexico Sports

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Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is a former ABC-7 New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and weekend evening newscast anchor.


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