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Go Aggies: A cautious return to sports


Sports have always been a great pastime for Americans.

Many of us love to play sports, and even more love to watch. Most of us have a favorite team, and some of us take it very seriously.

If you live in a college town, going to the local games becomes a social event for casual and diehard fans alike.

But just as it has disrupted so many things in our lives, the Coronavirus has messed up our sports.

The New Mexico boys state high school basketball championship March 14 in Albuquerque was, as far as I can tell, the last state title game played in the country last spring. Our own Las Cruces High School Bulldawgs, played that final game, winning the 5A title, in front of no fans at the empty Pit at the University of New Mexico campus.

A couple of days before, our New Mexico State University Aggie men’s basketball team was already in Las Vegas for the Western Athletic Conference tournament, when the tournament was canceled.

The whole world then shut down.

After a few months, sports tip-toed back into the water, led by the NBA, which created its “bubble” in Orlando in July, with 22 teams quarantining to finish out the season. The league did one of the best jobs of any organization keeping COVID-19 at bay, and things ended happily for fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, who won the championship Oct. 11.

Major League Baseball also resumed in July, with less success. Nationwide travel and less restrictions led to several team-wide COVID-19 outbreaks. The season eventually concluded, again with a happy ending for Angelenos, whose L.A. Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988.

I watched part of a pro football game Sunday. Based on that, the NFL has returned pretty much to normal, in that for the 30 minutes I watched, 15 were spent waiting on instant replay reviews. But there are also pockets of COVID-19 in the league.

College football returned with mixed results. Some leagues started late, some canceled fall football, and for the colleges playing, there have been many postponements of games due to COVID-19.

Amid the mixed news of rising Coronavirus numbers and a potential vaccine, many college conferences are looking at resuming activity in 2021. Just last week, the New Mexico State University Aggies announced the WAC’s updated conference schedules for men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

Basketball slated a Jan. 8 return; volleyball, Jan. 25; soccer, Feb. 18.

Aggie football will kick off a spring season with a Feb. 20 home game against Tarleton State and two weeks later will host Dixie State. If you’re like me, you might not have heard of Dixie State. Well, the school, whose nickname is the Trailblazers, was established in 1911 in St. George, Utah. The Trailblazers this year moved up to Division I in NCAA athletics and is the latest member of the WAC. Anyway, it will be a new experience to watch Aggie football in February and March, as long as it’s not during one of our nasty spring windstorms.

A big question, though, is how well prepared can our Aggies be? Right now, there are more than 340 Division I sports programs in America. Of those, only two are prohibited from full practices right now. Those two are NMSU and UNM. Our state’s non-Division I college sports programs are also prohibited from practicing due to our state’s health protocols.

That’s what prompted a group of athletes from NMSU, UNM, Western New Mexico University in Silver City, Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, and New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, to send a letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, asking her to allow them to practice and play, given their commitment to do so safely.

Currently, all those schools’ programs are under strict COVID-19 precaution guidelines and have incidence rates lower than New Mexico’s general population.

I’m neither an epidemiologist nor a psychic, so as with anything COVID-19-related, I’m not in position to make recommendations or predictions.

I do know this: We’re all tired of the “new normal.”

If we could safely do some of our favorite things, such as attending Aggie sports, even on a very limited basis, it might be a benefit to everyone’s shaky morale.

And to those young, gifted student-athletes, it would mean much more.

Richard Coltharp