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The Mountain West Conference is planning to start winter sports on time; and the league on Monday postponed fall sports indefinitely because of “the continued unknown” regarding COVID-19, commissioner Craig Thompson said in comments during an interview the MWC provided on Thursday.
“At this point, we are still targeting a November start for winter sports,” Thompson said. “The winter sports are on the second burner and the first burner is certainly the continuation of what the NCAA is going to do with fall sports. Are they going to jump them to the spring, etc.? Right now our plan is to start winter sports on time, but as we found out in the last couple weeks, the last couple days this can change on a moment’s notice.”
The MWC will need to have a strong confirmation sometime in late September for winter sports, which includes men’s and women’s basketball, to start on time. Practices start early October and there are games scheduled for Nov. 10, Thompson said.
Any talks of moving the start of winter sports to January “are all premature,” said Thompson who serves on the NCAA men’s basketball committee.
Meanwhile, in announcing the NCAA’s cancellation Thursday of fall championship events, NCAA President Mark Emmert also said NCAA officials have begun work on contingencies for the NCAA basketball tournaments, possibly moving dates and looking into creating bubbles in which the teams can compete.
He said the NCAA would prioritize staging championships in winter and spring sports because those – including the lucrative men’s basketball tournament – were canceled when COVID-19 first spiked across the United States in March.On Monday, the MWC shut down fall sports less than a week after it announced a plan only to delay the start of fall sports and formed a schedule model for football: eight league and up to two non-conference contests.
“If there’s one word to describe the whole scenario over the last five months it’s, ‘unknown,’ and that continues on,” Thompson said.
The MWC has had weekly meetings with its board of directors, consisting of the university presidents, including University of New Mexico’s Garnett Stokes, and numerous meetings with the MWC athletic directors and coaches, as well as with its medical advisory group.
“We heard about cardiac conditions and various studies,” Thompson said. “What’s really interesting to me is that every Division I conference and certainly the FBS conferences absolutely have very active medical groups and those groups are uneven and unsure of their comparative notes to each other. Different studies show different things and it’s amazing that intelligent people can reach different conclusions.”
Stokes said the MWC’s decision to postpone fall sports was “necessary,” in a statement she provided to the Journal on Tuesday and then tweeted it on Twitter on Wednesday,
“When it comes to Lobo athletics, I’m not just the president of UNM, I’m also a fan,” she said. “And I am saddened by this disappointing but necessary decision by the MWC to postpone fall sports.”
Thompson said he believes playing fall sports in the spring is feasible. He acknowledged that he was among those who said moving fall sports, including football, to the spring was as “a last resort; only if we have to” option.
“The first question would be: how would it look like?” he said of fall sports in the spring. “How many conferences would be willing to play? Then you start to model it. …There’s a number of models that we can look at, but first steps first we’ve got to see who is willing and able to play in the spring.”
Moving fall sports to the spring still must go through the Division I Council, which is comprised of representatives of all 32 conferences, and be approved by the DI Board of Directors.
Championship events in all sports could be modified going forward to deal with COVID-19, Emmert said. That is likely to include fewer teams participating at fewer and predetermined sites.
UNM coach Danny Gonzales said during a press conference via Zoom on Tuesday that it’s “absolutely possible” to play football in the spring.
“I do think there has to be ample time between the two seasons (in 2021),” he said. “I don’t think you can start in March, play a championship in May and start up again in July or June. That would be very taxing on the body because it is a violent and nasty game which makes it so much fun. But I think there are ways to do it. As more leagues continue to decide how they’re going to do it, I hope – I just want to play football. I know our guys want to play football.”
The Journal has requested interviews with UNM football players to gauge how they feel about playing or not playing. But UNM has not made any players available yet, saying only that it will happen soon.
Teton Saltes, a UNM senior offensive lineman who was recognized as being on the watch lists for the Outland Trophy and the Wuerffel Trophy, tweeted on Monday: “I love this university and this team more than words can describe. I hope I am able to wear that uniform again,” he said via Twitter.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.