Moving Forward

Hal Mumme spent 2003 and 2004 building a program at Division I-AA Southeastern Louisiana. On Sept. 2, the man who is now trying to build a program in Las Cruces, will be asked to dismantle, at least for a night, the Lions so his Aggies can put an end to the nation's longest losing streak.

Although ink has not yet dried on the contract, multiple sources close to the New Mexico State University athletics department have confirmed a deal to play Southeastern Louisiana in the season opener on Sept. 2 is essentially done.

As one of the most critical observers of the Aggie football program last season -- certainly one of the few vocal ones -- I must give Mumme and Co. credit for the future scheduling approach. They're giving themselves a chance to succeed.

While I don't like the fact NMSU backed out of a contract with Arizona State and owing a financial penalty -- athletics department officials from both schools have said they are negotiating the penalty NMSU owes for breach of contract -- I do like the new scheduling mentality, one that gives players still learning a new system an opportunity to learn how to win before conference play.

Of utmost importance in the 2006 season is a quick, better yet, immediate end to the 13-game losing streak. If that must come in the form of a Division I-AA opponent, so be it. The streak must, and will, end on Sept. 2.

While the days of money games -- a nice way of saying a school is sacrificing its football team for a huge financial payout -- are not entirely gone from NMSU, they are at least gone for a couple years. With a 12-game schedule, the Aggies will now play eight Western Athletic Conference games a year and maintain the home-and-home series with both UNM and UTEP, leaving two games a year for the schedule-makers to worry about. The plan is to use one of those games every third year to play a "money game" to help finance the payouts NMSU will owe to schools coming to Las Cruces the other two years.

Schools like Louisiana State and Ohio State are in the works for such money games in 2008 and 2010. The payouts for NMSU from schools like LSU and Ohio State will be in the $600,000 to $800,000 range. NMSU, meanwhile, will be paying low-level Division I or Division I-AA schools in the $100,000 range to play in Las Cruces.

Also on the bright side, is the fact the team won't travel more than an hour for a game until October, which will be either four or five games into the season.

As it stands now, the Aggies will play home games against SLU, then on Sept. 9 host the New Mexico Lobos. They will then host another Division I-AA school on Sept. 16 (contract negotiations are still ongoing for this game) and then possibly have a Sept. 23 bye week before traveling down the road to El Paso to play the UTEP Miners. The possible bye week is contingent on scheduling issues with fellow WAC school Louisiana Tech, which will play NMSU in Las Cruces on either Sept. 23 or at the end of the year on Dec. 2. If they choose the latter, there will be two weeks for Mumme and Co. to prepare for UTEP.

Either way, NMSU will have a legitimate chance from a scheduling standpoint to finally build a winner -- or at least a solid foundation for the future.

Throw in a quarterback in transfer Chase Holbrook, who runs Mumme's Air Raid offense the way it is supposed to be run, a full offseason of strength and conditioning training from Matt "The Punisher" Walter and a team that is now almost completely comprised of Mumme's recruits -- albeit last year's recruiting class was limited in time and this year's class is limited in scholarships due to past graduation lapses -- and the 2006 season will be a far better one to judge Mumme on than was the nightmare of 2005.

Even I plan to give them one more chance.

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Speaking of scheduling, the Aggie men's basketball team accidentally let the cat out of the bag last week on the Reggie Theus radio show about a number of scheduling decisions, despite not having all their contracts and sponsorships in place yet.

Although it has been in the works since Theus and his staff came aboard last Spring, NMSU will begin hosting an annual four-team Lou Henson Classic in the Pan American Center. A major sponsor is still pending, but the legendary coach has apparently agreed to lend his name to the event.

What's more, the Aggies will open the season next year against Loyola Marymount and appear to have been invited to play in the Billy Minardi Classic at Louisville, where Theus was an assistant under Cardinals coach Rick Pitino.

Scheduling the annual UNM and UTEP rivalry games before the winter break is also in the works so more students can attend.


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