Back on campus
Some student-athletes returning to ENMU grounds
Last updated 10/13/2020 at 4:41pm
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University announced Tuesday a return to campus for some of its student-athletes next week, with plans to bring back more in the coming weeks. That’s despite the university going to an online-only model for the fall semester.
Men’s and women’s basketball players can return to campus Tuesday, with student-athletes from other programs cleared to return the week of Nov. 2. All student-athletes will be tested for COVID-19 once they arrive on campus and must document a negative test result prior to participating in any team activities.
The university has about 400 student-athletes, with about 150 currently living in the Portales or surrounding area. Coaches and staffers are encouraged to invite those student-athletes to take part in an initial resocialization phase.
Men’s coach Brent Owen and women’s coach Josh Prock said pretty much all of their players are in the Portales area, save for one in the men’s program Owen said had family issues and anticipated returning in November.
“They all wanted to be here, they all wanted to be together and continue to work out on their own,” Prock said. “We supported that, so we’re in pretty good shape as far as getting going.”
Basketball has received the priority because it is the first on the Lone Star Conference’s revised competition slate. The conference had planned for basketball seasons to begin Dec. 31, but plans are in the works to bump that up to Dec. 10.
A full return for all programs is expected for early January. The resocialization phase, university officials said, will follow safety guidelines from the state, the LSC and the NCAA.
The NCAA will require weekly testing documented for all student-athletes, and basketball could require up to three weekly tests given its higher frequency of competitions. Athletic Director Matt Billings previously estimated the department would need to conduct around 5,000 tests between January and May.
The ENMU board of regents, during its Sept. 25 meeting, declined to act on a request from Greyhound Club President Charles Bennett to bring student-athletes back on campus. Regents felt those decisions were best left to Chancellor Patrice Caldwell and Billings, and expressed discomfort at voting for any plan that only focused on one group of students.
In response to an email from The News, Caldwell said any plans to bring back other student populations would require clearance through the university’s academic affairs office. Regarding questions as to whether bringing back only student-athletes is an admission they’re employees, Caldwell said she sees the point but countered that she doesn’t view student-athletes who receive grants-in-aid as part of their programs to be employees.
Owen said he is excited to get going, noting that he is yet to meet some of his players outside of virtual meetings since he was hired in May. He credited the work of Caldwell, Billings and head athletic trainer Hailey Parker for the work they’ve done in advance.
“I’m confident in the procedures and precautions we have in place, that those will keep our student-athletes safe,” Owen said. “I don’t think this is going to be an easy year; we’re going to have to be flexible. But it is a positive to get these guys back, not just for us, but for them and their mental health.”
To remain in alignment with current public health orders, the basketball teams must be split into two instructional pods. Owen said he plans to have two groups in the same gym, since he and assistant Daven Voh are implementing a new program. Prock, meanwhile, is likely to use separate gyms since his team is largely comprised of returning upperclassmen.
Other requirements will include coaches staying at least 12 feet from players, daily temperature checks, locker rooms limited to two people at a time and mask wearing. Owen said the college has a variety of masks for the players, but a player can bring his/her own mask if that’s what they’re most comfortable wearing.
Both coaches anticipate a season of strict requirements for student-athletes, coaches, staff and administrators, but Prock said, “I think it’s a workload we’re all excited about.”
The conference went ahead with cross country for the fall with a 14-team slate that did not include ENMU. The LSC also began its golf season in September; ENMU does not offer golf, having postponed plans to field a women’s team in the 2020-21 season.