When COVID-19 forced the NCAA to cancel spring sports and eliminate the NCAA basketball tournament, the question arose over whether UNM fall sports would meet the same fate.
While local outbreak fears still linger, other college athletic programs have started to have fall sport teams practice with strict guidelines.
This includes regular COVID-19 testing for players and staff and practicing in smaller groups in an attempt to combat the virus’ spread.
On July 1, UNM Athletics director Eddie Nuñez said that one of 88 individuals associated with the UNM football team — including players, coaches and staff — tested positive for COVID-19 after testing took place on June 27.
As of the time of publication, UNM hasn’t revealed whether the individual is a player, coach or staff member.
“Our medical team has worked with the individual who tested positive,” Nuñez said, adding that the provisions and necessary steps had been taken and that the individual was “doing well.”
Universities across the nation have come under scrutiny due to their approach to health and safety protocol for practices during the pandemic. Big-name programs like Clemson, Louisiana State and Texas have all reported at least 20 COVID-19 cases since returning to practice, which has caused a new wave of doubt surrounding the football season.
For Lobos, practice began on July 6 under first-year head coach Danny Gonzales.
Gonzales was happy to get the team together.
“It’s really exciting to get back,” Gonzales said, adding that while the team is counting down the days until the first potential kick-off of the season, safety is the number one priority.
“It’s about keeping them safe and knowing where they are,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said he believes there will be a football season in 2020 and is focused on getting the team prepared for what may come during these unprecedented times.
While many conferences have yet to make major decisions as to whether their fall sports take place as planned, the Ivy League is expected to move all fall sports to spring 2021.
This could set off a chain reaction as other leagues follow suit in an attempt to salvage their football seasons.
If the next football season is cancelled, it could also have serious financial implications for UNM’s athletic program.
UNM is slated to take on Mississippi State and University of Southern California in consecutive weeks this season in what are colloquially referred to as “body bag games”, where schools from Power-5 conferences pay lesser programs to play them as a warmup for conference play.
The income from these games would be vital to a program struggling with debts in excess of $4 million.
Other fall sports programs at UNM, such as volleyball and cross country, are either practicing from afar or with social distancing measures in place.
Jon Newman-Gonchar, UNM’s volleyball coach, said that he is regularly communicating with members of his team and encourages them to do as many drills as they can while away from the team indefinitely.
Newman-Gonchar hopes to regroup in late July or early August to start preseason practices, but acknowledges that the COVID-19 crisis has put expectations on hold.
“Right now, the focus is on health, academics and staying physically prepared, but we are excited about the fall,” said Newman-Gonchar.
“We're not in any hurry to get back (to UNM’s campus),” said Joe Franklin, head coach of the nationally-ranked UNM’s women's cross-country team.
Despite the delays, Franklin is confident in the cross-county program’s ability to stay locked in during the hiatus.
“Our women and men are so driven that we don’t need to manage training at that level,” Franklin said. “They all want to do great things, so they know what they need to do.”
Spencer Butler is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @SpencerButler48