“I’m sick and tired of both universities having to take money games,” said then-Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith. “We’re not competitive, and we’re getting crushed. But they’ve got to play these games to get enough money for their athletic departments.”
The budget included funding to eliminate debts of about $4.4 million for UNM athletics and $3 million for NMSU. But, as that legislative session ended, the coronavirus was just beginning to spread. The WAC Basketball Tournament was the first to be cancelled.
In the months to follow, the Aggies and Lobos would have to deal with a public health order that was far more restrictive than their competitors in other states. While other football teams played a full schedule last fall, the Aggies were limited to two games held at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, a 43-17 loss to Tarleton State and a 36-29 win over Dixie State.
One of the TV announcers who called the Aggies’ second game this season, a 28-10 loss to San Diego State, took note of all the restrictions the team faced in preparing for this season, and opined that coach Doug Martin has the toughest job in the country among college football coaches.
And it’s not just the pandemic. NMSU is one of just seven independent schools in the NCAA’s top level, the Football Bowl Subdivision. Some, like Army and Notre Dame, are strong enough to thrive without a conference affiliation, and are independent by choice. The Aggies were left without a chair when the music stopped, after the Western Athletic Conference dropped football in 2012.
The recent decision by Texas and Oklahoma to leave the Big 12 and join the Southeastern Conference will mean more shakeups to come. Ideally, that could open up a spot for the Aggies in a lower-level conference.
But, it will undoubtedly increase the growing gap between the elite programs and all the rest who will never be able to keep up.
So will new laws like the bill passed by the New Mexico Legislature this year allowing college athletes to make commercials and profit from the use of their name or photo. I was glad that the NCAA backed down and changed its rules, but also recognize that not all college athletes will benefit equally. The rich will get richer.
The Aggies have shown improvement each game this season, but they are 0-3. And, looking ahead to the rest of the schedule, it’s hard to find many probable wins.
While the governor’s restrictions can be blamed for some of the recent challenges, the program hasn’t had a winning record during the regular season since 2002. They did finish 6-6 in 2017, which was good enough to earn a spot in the Arizona Bowl, where they beat Utah State. But their cumulative record over the past decade, including this year, is a woeful 24-78.
That’s not a knock against Martin or Athletics Director Mario Moccia. Both have done as well as anybody could have given the circumstances. But I don’t think those circumstances are going to change for the better.
As for that infusion of new money from the Legislature, the Aggies are scheduled to play Alabama on Nov. 13 in Tuscaloosa.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com
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When the New Mexico Legislature put additional money in the budget last year to wipe out the debts of the athletic programs at New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico, it was hoped that the schools would no longer need to put our football teams up as cannon fodder in so-called “money games.”
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