New Mexico won’t see the beginning of football and soccer seasons this fall.
In Thursday afternoon’s COVID-19 press conference from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, it was announced contact sports such as football and boys and girls soccer would not be allowed under the updated public health order put in place beginning Monday. The New Mexico Activities Association said it would look to hold football and soccer seasons in the spring beginning in February.
“No contact sports are going to be permitted this fall,” Lujan Grisham said. “This has been a decision we’ve been doing a fair amount of handling on. Sports are incredibly important to the individuals who play them. We are clear about that.
“These contact sports are just too high risk. If we do well, if we work hard, it is possible we could just be delaying them and they could be played later in the year and later into the season. Fingers crossed, and I believe in you that we can get this done.”
The news came on the same day the Utah High School Activities Association unanimously approved a plan to begin fall sports as regularly scheduled. The Colorado High School Activities Association has submitted a plan to Gov. Jared Polis with the hope of setting guidelines for sports to resume as scheduled in August. That plan and the decision to move forward is pending that approval.
“I guess it is kind of comforting Utah is going ahead. It gives me some hope,” said Durango School District 9-R athletic director Ryan Knorr. “I think it is a little early for New Mexico to make that sort of call. It’s not consistent. We are in a unique geographic location here in the Four Corners. Durango is not the same as Denver. Salt Lake is not the same as St. George, and Farmington is not the same as Albuquerque. It’s just interesting to see how different places so close together have such different responses to the same issues.
“But we are seeing moves being made with the Ivy League not playing college sports in the fall, so I think people are just making plans. You can’t fault them for that. We are seeing that the government trumps everything and any plans maybe made to play in the fall. The governance of this is so interesting to see play out.”
The NMAA said a tentative plan for sports going forward will be announced on or around July 15.
“Education based athletes are an important part of the educational process,” NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez said in a news release. “The NMAA will work tirelessly to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in all sports and activities of their choosing during the 2020-21 school year.”
The suspension of fall sports to the spring semester will, of course, conflict with the end of winter sports as well as spring sports. Smaller schools that have more athletes playing multiple sports will be disproportionately affected, especially with those who play football or soccer and also participate in baseball, softball or track and field.
Lujan Grisham said non-contact sports such as cross-country, golf and tennis would continue to be reviewed during July with hopes those sports could be played as regularly scheduled.
“This is painful, and we are working with the (New Mexico Activities Association) on creating standards and getting that info out to coaches and teams,” Lujan Grisham said. “We are not giving up on it yet but letting everyone know we are delaying those.
“Other non-contact sports are under review – likely delayed start to seasons – but I am feeling confident as I can given our current situation we are in that we can get them in.”
There was no mention of volleyball, the only indoor fall sport. The guidelines also only pertained to high school athletics and did not mention collegiate athletics, as each individual conference has been left to make decisions regarding the return of fall sports.
“I don’t have the same authority over the college sport associations,” Lujan Grisham said, noting she would ask the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University not to participate in contact sports this fall.
The news came as New Mexico reimplemented tough restrictions on restaurants and businesses following a two-week spike in COVID-19 cases in the state.
According to Dr. David Scarse, New Mexico’s cabinet secretary for health and human services, there have been 1,736 new cases in the last seven days and 3,068 cases in the last two weeks. Roughly 45% of those cases are in people ages 20-39, and 48.4% in the last week have been in the Hispanic population.
“We don’t have the resources most states do,” Lujan Grisham said. “New Mexico has the lowest amount per capita in the country. We have to do it better than everyone else in the country. We were, and we can do it again.”
Also announced Thursday, New Mexico state parks will remain closed to non-residents, and camping will be banned in state parks, which are open to day-use only.
“What we saw July 4 was a clear demonstration we have way too much going on with travelers who provide risk,” Lujan Grisham said.
Lujan Grisham said the return of any school sports will require students to be able to return to classrooms. Right now, New Mexico is looking at an alternative model of schooling where students attend class in-person two days a week and do online learning the other three days a week.
“We will do everything in our power to save lives, and we are,” Lujan Grisham said. “We don’t have treatments or a vaccine. If we are going to open schools in August, we have July, basically, to get in a place we are stable and some counties start to see a decline in the number of infections per day, per week, per 14 days.
“None of these sports, no fall sports, will happen is schools don’t open. It’s all tied to if schools open.”