ALBUQUERQUE — The Lobos are on the move. Again.
The University of New Mexico men’s and women’s basketball teams are following the lead of the Lobo football team and moving their base of operations out of state to sidestep New Mexico’s stringent public health orders regarding the coronavirus.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said the men’s basketball team will take up temporary residence in Lubbock, Texas, while the women will stay in Amarillo and practice at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. The exact location for the men’s workouts and potential games had not been determined, although Nuñez said he was working on finalizing contracts.
The move comes three weeks after UNM’s football team became the first college program in the country to move out of state in order to salvage its season. The Lobos have been staying in Henderson, Nev., since Oct. 26 and practicing at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium. They played their first so-called home game in Las Vegas last weekend and will remain in Henderson through at least the end of the month, if not the remainder of the 2020 season.
Nuñez said he didn’t have an exact estimate on how much it will cost the university to move its basketball teams, but he said conservative figures call for $80 to $100 a night for each room for a travel party of roughly 30 people per team. UNM is paying roughly $70,000 a week to house the football team in Nevada.
Nuñez justified the move for football by citing the financial benefit of the Mountain West Conference’s new TV rights partnership with Fox and CBS, a multiyear deal that, coupled with the school’s take from its share of the College Football Playoff, would bring between $3 million and $4 million to the cash-starved athletic department. The caveat: UNM had to field a team and fulfill its portion of the broadcast schedule.
The impact of basketball to that multiyear deal, Nuñez said, is far smaller but was enough to persuade him to keep the basketball season alive.
Nuñez also said it was unclear if either team would be able to play a nonconference schedule. The college basketball season starts next week, and UNM has yet to announce the nonconference games for either team.
He said he hadn’t ruled out a game or two outside of the 20-game schedule both teams will play within the Mountain West, and he added the priority would be getting teams practicing and prepared for a season. He also was noncommittal about facing New Mexico State, in part because of scheduling and venue difficulties.
NMSU’s men’s team announced Tuesday plans to move its camp to Phoenix, and its women’s team will be in Tucson, Ariz.
New Mexico’s public health order prohibits gatherings of more than five people. The UNM men’s team has had just three full practices since March, head coach Paul Weir said.
Nuñez said he considered a number of locations but settled on West Texas due to its proximity to Albuquerque.
He said he would continue to look for a location that better suits each team. That might mean West Texas is nothing more than a pit stop on the road to somewhere else. Both teams are tentatively scheduled to open their seasons Dec. 3 and 5 against Boise State, but Nuñez said it’s entirely likely those dates will be pushed back because the Lobos simply will not have had enough time to train.
“[It] really doesn’t put our student-athletes in the best position to be successful,” Nuñez said. “We are working with the conference office, with Boise. They’ve both been really good in understanding to some alternative dates. We are going to play them. It’s just when we’re going to play them.”
Despite more record numbers of COVID-19 cases in Bernalillo County and the rest of the state Wednesday, Nuñez said there had been no new cases within the football or basketball programs since last weekend. Per Mountain West and NCAA rules, each team will be tested three times a week when they’re out of state.
“The process is working,” Nuñez said. “The cost might be a little bit more, but everything that we’re doing seems to work, and right now I don’t want to add anything or take anything away until we can really understand what we’re doing.”