The 2016-17 academic year at NMSU had everything. A football win over UNM. A tremendous basketball run. A gut-wrenching defection. Two seemingly-good basketball hires, although one could be considered questionable, and concerns over money, the future of football and the conference.
As the record books on the current academic year end, finding the right words to describe the “state of New Mexico State” is proving a bit difficult. The Aggie faithful were feeling giddy about the recently completed basketball season thinking Mario had made the right hire in Paul Weir---the young coach who had been “blessed” by Lou Henson, whose bride and child are from Las Cruces and where Weir had received an advanced degree---and that the future of Aggie basketball, despite the continued concerns about the WAC, looked bright.
Then NMSU’s biggest rival on and off the field/court not only successfully took NMSU’s head basketball coach, but in the process put a skid to the momentum that the Canook had created. Overnight Weir went from hero to Benedict Arnold as he did the unthinkable, forever casting himself as an Aggie villain, and rightfully so. If nothing else, this move cemented the hate NMSU fans have for UNM further ratcheting up the already intense rivalry.
In taking the job, it also further exposed NMSU’s financial issues and created the fear that, because of the low pay, NMSU would struggle to find a quality coach. But the AD had an ace, albeit a controversial one, up his sleeve and in the end hired what many believe to be a tremendous basketball mind, but with a tarnished reputation. The pressure is on Chris Jans to try and make up some lost ground following the departure and defection of some players.
The pressure also is on the program to generate more ticket revenue as attendance and sales for Aggie basketball continue to underperform. Aggie fans seem to feel a bit better about the WAC as several programs have progressed, but the casual fan still doesn’t get excited about UTRGV or UMKC, etc.
Late in the year NMSU also faced having to hire a new women’s basketball coach as the veteran coach, Mark Trakh, got a return trip to SoCal. Mario Moccia has seemingly hired a quality coach---an assistant making her big move---and we’ll see where that goes, although many Aggie fans on this board don’t seem to care about anything other than football and men’s basketball.
The 800-pound gorilla continues to be Aggie football and its uncertain future. The 2016 season proved to be a downer as NMSU did little to bolster fan confidence. There does not appear to be a lot of fan optimism going into the 2017 season. The Aggies face a tough non-conference schedule and the conference didn’t do NMSU any favors either as the Crimson and White play mostly upper-tier SBC teams.
The uncertainty of playing as a football independent and the impact of that isn’t known yet, but in my opinion, it’s shaky at best and it doesn’t help fan perception and the subsequent support.
The school’s financial woes also likely mean continued penny pinching and no-growth in the athletics department.
As for the other sports, there are some bright spots and other sports are still transitioning.
- Volleyball continues to be solid
- Softball is strong
- Baseball has improved under Brian Green, but there’s still work to do
- Women’s golf seems solid; Mario will be hiring a new coach soon as Jackie Booth retires
- Men’s golf seems to have slipped
- Women’s soccer has a way to go
- The other non-revenue sports---tennis, track/cross country, swimming---are meeting expectations with their level of funding
So, what is the state of New Mexico State athletics?
While not on the critical list, and certainly not on life support, NMSU is, however, struggling the result of uncertainty over the future of football and its continued mediocrity, the weak WAC, and the lack of funds and lack of an enthusiastic, ticket-buying fan base.
I think Mario is doing the best he can with the resources he has and with soft support from the president and the board of regents.
A stronger showing by the football team and some magic from the new basketball coach would help matters. But for right now, in my opinion, things are rather tepid at NMSU, and that concerns me.