LAS CRUCES – Following New Mexico State’s loss at home to San Diego, a frustrated NMSU Director of Athletics Mario Moccia took to Twitter to voice his frustration.
Not at the Aggies’ loss on Wednesday, but rather to voice what has become a frustration regarding university facilities and the athletic program’s access to them.
“Lost fair & square but a team must have a shoot around w/out distraction! Will b practicing at a HS to prepare 4 UNM! Anyone remember why we lost the last guy?”
Moccia was referencing the departure of former New Mexico State men’s basketball coach Paul Weir, but it also illustrated there is a disconnect between university special events and athletics when there is a schedule conflict on campus.
The court was down Wednesday afternoon for New Mexico State’s shootaround, but it was not a quiet time at the Pan American Center as the Aggies were preparing to face the University of San Diego that night.
Mannheim Steamroller was at the arena the night before and for most of the day on Wednesday, the arena was still being set up for the basketball during the Aggies’ shootaround.
The Aggies lost to the Toreros 65-60 on Wednesday night and because of NMSU commencement on Saturday, both NMSU basketball teams were forced to practice off campus to prepare for weekend rivalry games.
The arena not being set up 100 percent for shoot around isn’t the reason why the Aggies lost Wednesday night – but it has led to questions as to who controls the Pan American Center, how does scheduling work at the arena and will not having 100 percent access to the Pan American Center facilities be a reason why NMSU coaches would leave?
Who has priority of the Pan Am Center?
The answer to the question of who controls the Pan American Center is simple.
The university does.
The university, and not special events, has deemed the arena’s No. 1 priority is NMSU’s academic calendar, which means commencement ceremonies are the top priority for scheduling, which is seven or eight days out of the academic year.
Because the Pan American Center’s practice gym is used for preparation for the commencement ceremonies, both NMSU basketball teams have been practicing at local high schools the past few days as the NMSU men prepare for a Saturday road game at New Mexico and the Aggie women prepare for a Sunday home game against UTEP.
But NMSU basketball not having access to the Pan American Center during commencement is nothing new and has been happening for years.
“I think it’s always a challenge,” Moccia told the Sun-News. “I think anywhere I have been, gradation always take priority. That is common place at a lot of arenas. Obviously, that is why the practice gym was built. To be able to utilize that when things are going on in the arena like a graduation or Garth Brooks.”
How does scheduling events and NMSU games work?
NMSU Special Events director Scott Breckner told the Sun-News scheduling events at the Pan American Center is a team effort between the university, special events and athletics. As far as the next phase of scheduling, Breckner said Moccia and NMSU volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball head or assistant coaches inform him of dates for when they want to contract a team for non-conference play and Breckner also receives the Western Athletic Conference schedules for those three sports to make sure those dates are locked away for Aggie athletic events.
That also includes football as special events prefers not to host NMSU football and an event at the Pan American Center simultaneously. Brecker said they already have some dates for next athletic year in 2018 and 2019 that are being locked away for NMSU athletic events.
“If they have a specific date in mind that they are specifically looking to contract a team or they are getting the league schedule for volleyball, we enter that into our calendar,” Breckner said. “And that becomes the priority.”
Breckner, who said special events has a good relationship with athletics, said they prefer not to schedule a concert and a basketball game on back-to-back nights, and vice versa, because there is very little time to correct a mistake if a mistake is made during changeover.
“It wasn’t a quiet setting (during shootaround),” Brackner said. “That’s why we typically stay away from trying to do back-to-back activities because it taxes everyone. We try to avoid all of that if we possibly can and we usually do.”
In case of this week’s back-to-back events, Moccia said the previous coaching staff was having problems getting a date from San Diego, which was the completion of a home-and-home contract, and scheduled Wednesday night’s game knowing that Mannheim Steamroller was booked the night before.
Also, NMSU men’s basketball’s 2017-18 schedule was not finalized until early October.
Following the concert, Breckner said Mannheim Steamroller’s trucks left around 1:30-2 a.m. and crews were brought in around 5 a.m. for changeover after the stage was deconstructed between 2-4 a.m. on early Wednesday morning.
The concert was attended by just 2,000 people.
“As the Director of Athletics, I would have liked to turn the building around that night,” Moccia said. “And said, ‘Hey, let’s bring in a night crew.’ And when Mannheim Steamroller leaves, we’re going to have the crew immediately put the arena back together.”
Breckner said the court was in place for San Diego’s 10 a.m. shootaround on Wednesday morning.
“You are going to have these unique circumstances,” Breckner said. “I came from Michigan State where I got to work with a couple of great (Spartan men’s basketball) coaches in Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo for 15-16 years. I know those nuances and know how difficult it can be. Each coach is different. They coach and they have specific needs with their practice schedules and time. It’s a matter of trying to balance those.
“I think it will be a better situation as we move forward because I think they can control their calendar to a certain degree. And this year, I think it was difficult in closing out and finalizing that calendar.”
There are some instances when special events needs to accommodate a certain event. A case such as the Blake Shelton concert scheduled for Feb. 17. Even before the NMSU women’s basketball schedule came out and knowing it would be a WAC game, Breckner said they informed athletics an Aggie women’s basketball game may need to be moved to Sunday, Feb. 18 for Shelton, a show that was sold out not long after tickets went on sale. The Aggie women’s basketball game vs. Seattle was moved to Feb. 18.
“That is the kind of dialog we have back-and-forth,” Breckner said. “They’re balancing that calendar and trying to get teams to come to Las Cruces. We kind of have the same situation. We are trying to find events and we sometimes have to try to fit that event because we really are known as a secondary market. We are not designated as a major market.”
NMSU athletics pays a fee of $20,000 a month to special events to manage Aggie athletic events – including football, baseball, softball and women’s soccer – for the ticket takers, ushers and management personnel.
Would lack of access to facilities cause NMSU coaches would leave?
Former Aggie men’s basketball head coach Paul Weir submitted a list of proposed program improvements to Moccia while Weir was in talks with the University of New Mexico about its head coaching position. Although Weir said it was submitted as a group of talking points to illustrate the challenges facing Moccia and the athletic department moving forward rather than demands that must be met to remain in Las Cruces.
On that list was access to the Pan American Center locker room and practice facilities at all times, which Moccia referred to in his Tweet, after an issue arose during the Garth Brooks concert series last April when coaches and staff did not have access to the building while recruits were on campus.
Weir would accept his current his position at UNM later that month.
The Garth Brooks Tour needed the backstage and locker room area, but Breckner said that special events escorted the recruits through the building during that time.
“That was kind of a unique nuance and we haven’t really had that in 10 years that I have been here,” Breckner said. “It’s a matter of trying to stay even keel and trying to get all parties involved and understand occasionally there is going to be an issue. Overall, it seems to work pretty well.”