Lobos-Aggies heated basketball rivalry is placed on hold

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Nov. 23—In the wake of the weekend’s shootout on the University of New Mexico campus that left one UNM student dead, two others in jail and a New Mexico State University basketball player in the hospital, the schools have agreed the heated men’s basketball rivalry can be put on the shelf for this year.

University of New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez announced Tuesday that Saturday’s game scheduled in the Pit will not be rescheduled and the Dec. 3 game between the two teams that was to be played in the Pan American Center in Las Cruces is off, too.

The Dec. 11 NMSU women’s basketball game against the Lobos in the Pit will proceed as planned.

“We felt, at this time, there needed to be a pause,” Nuñez said. “This event (Saturday’s shooting) just recently occurred. There’s still a lot of anxiety and concerns in the community. And we want to make sure that those take precedence over this event.”

He said the decision wasn’t made by the athletics department alone, but rather after consulting with police, UNM President Garnett Stokes, other university leadership at UNM, coaches and with representatives from NMSU in order to “make sure that we make the right decision for UNM, for NMSU, for the future of this rivalry.”

He said his concerns about the safety of fans and players were shared by NMSU, which has called a Wednesday afternoon Zoom video conference with media that will include athletic director Mario Moccia, Chancellor Dan Arvizu and Dean of Students Ann Goodman.

The only other time since World War II that the annual rivalry games weren’t played was two years ago due to COVID-related restrictions imposed by the state.

A fight at the Oct. 15 Lobos-Aggies football game in Las Cruces — a brawl seen on a now widely circulated social media video — involved at least two NMSU basketball players and at least one UNM student.

One of those involved and identified in the video was Mike Peake, a 21-year-old starting forward for the NMSU basketball team. One of the others involved in the fight, according to police reports, was Brandon Travis, a 19-year-old UNM student who is alleged to have conspired to lure Peake to campus around 3 a.m. Saturday to get revenge for that fight. That plot turned deadly.

New Mexico State Police reports indicate Travis and two other men planned to attack Peake, who was on campus to meet a 17-year-old female UNM student. Police say surveillance video shows Peake being hit in the leg with a bat, running away and then being shot at by Travis.

Police say Peake was seen pulling a gun of his own out of his waistband area and shooting Travis, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

Saturday night’s highly anticipated Lobos-Aggies game in the Pit — expected to have more than 15,000 fans in attendance — was called off.

On Tuesday, Nuñez said that, while final tallies are still being compiled, the department will take a hit of between $400,000-$500,000 in lost revenue from ticket sales, concessions and other marketing-related revenues from the cancelled home game.

Refunds for those who purchased single-game tickets were processed Tuesday, an Athletic Department official said, and should be showing up in customer accounts.

It is unclear if either team might try to schedule other opponents to fill the void of two lost games in their non-conference schedules. Doing so would cost money.

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While UNM and NMSU don’t pay each other for games, since each plays at the other’s arena every year, most nonconference games require a fee that helps the visiting team pay for travel. Also, very few college basketball teams have many openings in the schedule by late November.

Both teams return to action Friday — NMSU in a two-day tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada, and UNM in the first of a three-day Lobo Classic tournament in the Pit.

As for when the rivalry games might be played again, including next year’s football rivalry game scheduled for Albuquerque, Nuñez said it’s all yet to be determined.

“I truly feel like we have the support through UNMPD and APD, and others here to be able to host the game and do it well,” Nuñez said. “But this is a bigger question. This is us sitting down together at the table — NMSU and UNM — and making sure that we think this is going to be the same response at their venue as it is at ours. Now’s the time to do that. …

“We have to find a way to make sure that everything surrounding the game experience is at the level that we expect it to be.”

He added that metal detectors for fans to enter the Pit are going to be a part of future games — a move that was in the works before this past weekend’s events.

Oct. 15 brawl

A brawl at the Oct. 15 Lobos-Aggies football game is cited in police reports as the motive to lure Peake to UNM’s campus early Saturday morning to get revenge on him for being one of several people seen on video beating up Travis and others on the concourse of Aggie Memorial Stadium.

NMSU has since acknowledged “there were multiple fights that day.” In the cases where students were involved, or identified through video, they were referred to the university’s Dean of Students for possible discipline.

NMSU would not comment on whether players — Peake and another teammate are both identifiable in the widely circulated video of the fight — were disciplined as members of the Aggie basketball team.

Questions about the violation of team policies were referred by the school to head basketball coach Greg Heiar. But the school also said he is not available for comment on the matter.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported Tuesday that it reviewed arrest log information related to anyone who may have been taken into custody during that game and found only one arrest of an 18-year-old NMSU student for a matter “seemingly unrelated to the fight involving the basketball players.”

One other person believed to have been involved in the fight and seen in the video is a UTEP Miners men’s basketball player. The Journal asked UTEP for comment on any potential discipline or other actions for their players who may have been involved.

A UTEP spokesman replied via email: “University officials are currently reviewing the alleged involvement of UTEP students in the Oct. 15 incident at Aggie Memorial Stadium. In accordance with University policy, we are unable to discuss matters concerning specific students.”

Nuñez, meanwhile, said that, beyond that fight and others reported at the Oct. 15 game, there were safety concerns for the Lobo players and coaching staff during the game.

“There were incidents that had occurred in the stands that were affecting our players. We had things thrown at our players,” Nuñez said. “We had stuff stolen from our benches. There were several incidents that occurred down there that were not to a level that we expected. And, yes, we did communicate this to NMSU. They are aware of this. Luckily, nobody was hurt in respect to those situations.”

Game-day operations, including security, at NMSU sporting events are not handled by the NMSU Athletics Department like they are at UNM. At NMSU, all security and game-day operations are handled by the Special Events Department.

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