New Mexico State suspends operations of men’s basketball team
New Mexico State indefinitely suspended its men’s basketball program in a virtually unheard of move that the university says is unrelated to a fatal shooting involving one of its players last year.
The school also placed first-year coach Greg Heiar and his staff on administrative leave for what it said were violations of university policy and separate from the Nov. 19 shooting of a student from rival University of New Mexico. Aggies power forward Mike Peake was suspended in early December while a third-party investigator looks into his involvement in the shooting in Albuquerque.
The shutdown of a Division I program in midseason for reasons other than a spate of injuries or, more recently, a COVID-19 outbreak, is virtually unheard of. SMU’s football program canceled its 1988 season after the NCAA handed it the “death penalty” the year before, but that move was made before the season was underway.
New Mexico State’s game against California Baptist on Saturday has been canceled, and it is unknown how many more of the team’s five remaining games, all in the Western Athletic Conference, will also be wiped out.
The program has been teetering since the night of the Nov. 19 shooting. Shortly after the shooting, Heiar loaded the team onto a bus and left town, minus Peake and three players who had picked him up and taken him to the hospital with a leg injuries. Police stopped the bus on its way back to the school’s campus, three hours south in Las Cruces.
Peake has not been charged in the shooting. The district attorney in Albuquerque is conducting a separate investigation.
The school’s announcement said Friday’s move was not related to the shooting and its aftermath. The board of regents released a separate statement saying it supported “the action taken by the university leaders and is confident a full and thorough investigation will be conducted.”
The Aggies had previously canceled the game against the Lobos in Albuquerque that had been scheduled for the day after the shooting, along with the Dec. 3 rematch in Las Cruces.
The Aggies have won seven WAC titles and made eight appearances in March Madness since 2007. They are supposed to move into Conference USA next year. But this year, they have struggled to a 9-15 record - including 10 losses in their last 12 games - under Heiar, who took over for Chris Jans when he left for Mississippi State. Jans went 122-32 in five seasons and took the Aggies to three tournaments.
Leadership at the school is also in flux. The board of regents recently decided not to renew the contract of Chancellor Dan Arvizu, which expires in June. Over the past 14 months, both the school’s president and provost have resigned or been removed from their positions.