THE PIT — The New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) announced on Wednesday, March 11 that the state basketball tournaments would continue as scheduled, but without any fans in attendance at Dreamstyle Arena.
The update comes in response to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's public health emergency declaration issued the same day due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
Although many sporting events across the country have either been postponed or canceled entirely, the NMAA concluded after consultation with Lujan Grisham and recommendations from both the Departments of Health and Public Education that the tournament could continue at the Pit with only players and essential staff present.
Games scheduled for the Pit on March 13-14 will only contain team members, officials and essential faculty and facility workers.
This includes members of the media, as they were barred from entering the Pit on Thursday. After considerable blowback, the NMAA stated it would allow a limited group of in-person media access to the games, per New Mexico Press Association Executive Director Sammy Lopez.
However, as of Thursday evening, the NMAA had not confirmed the statement by Lopez and the only media that were present on Thursday were members of the NMAA, either as regular employees or working as contractors.
This issue, along with others, has created tension between the Governor's office and the NMAA.
A spokesperson for the Governor's office expressed frustration with the NMAA's handling of the situation in light of the NMAA's suggestion in its Wednesday press conference that it was Lujan Grisham who barred the media.
Additional frustrations surround the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Network — the NMAA’s streaming partner — for not waiving a $10.99 viewing fee for fans now unable to witness the games in person.
Lujan Grisham's Director of Communications Tripp Stelnicki was displeased with the situation caused by the NFHS not eliminating its fee.
"No. We're in special circumstances and they should absolutely make it free ... Just waive the fee for god's sake," Stelnicki said. "Let people watch for free."
Stelnicki also expressed discontent for the handling of the media situation.
"The media thing is just a real nuisance, because I wish that had been figured out," Stelnicki said.
NFHS Network CEO Mark Koski, who is from Albuquerque and an alum of Highland High, stated in an email to various individuals that they were looking to "accommodate requests" from many high school associations across the country impacted by COVID-19.
According to multiple sources, NMAA Associate Director Dusty Yang wrote in an email to various groups asserting Lujan Grisham was responsible for the media mishap.
"The NMAA never suggested it was the Governor's office that decided media could not attend today's state basketball tournament. We have repeatedly stated that media could not attend due to the occupancy threshold that was imposed upon us in order to continue with the championships," Yang wrote.
Currently, the occupancy threshold for the tournament is 100 people. The NMAA claims that it tried to increase the threshold but was denied of these requests.
The NMAA stated it would provide updates throughout the remaining games via its various social media platforms and through NFHS streams.
Fans who had already purchased tickets for the weekend's games are urged to contact the Lobo ticket office on Monday, March 16 for a refund.
Spencer Butler is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SpencerButler48