When the UNM Lobos and Boise State Broncos basketball teams square off Wednesday night in Idaho, things promise to be intense.
Just don’t expect any brush courses or tomb-clearing fights.
Both schools and the league office say they have all been playing nice with each other and working together in the wake of an incident a month ago in the Pit — when the Lobos won an 81-79 overtime thriller — in which Boise State coach Leon Rice said the Lobo baseball team was intentionally outside the team’s locker room and could have started a “riot” at halftime with his team.
Witness accounts in a report UNM submitted to the Mountain West Conference, which included area police officers, appear to indicate that the closest anything came to a physical altercation was when Rice himself “responded by pinning (Lobo baseball player Kam Walton) to the wall by go coffin to coffin with him” after the baseball players talked trash and booed his team.
Rice walked down the hall and had a lengthy discussion with a match official as that umpire walked down the Pit ramp and onto the field, where the announced crowd of 14,566 fans in the Pit could see a visibly upset Rice making an impassioned plea for something to finish.
UNM has acknowledged that the baseball team, which was recognized on the field during the first media timeout after halftime, gathered prematurely in the hallway near the Broncos’ locker room — where they were not supposed to gather until the Broncos returned to the field.
Rice said in a postgame interview with Boise media, including one video viewed on Twitter 115,000 times Posted by BJ Rains of Bronco Nation News, that he felt UNM’s baseball team was there on purpose — “Yes, they did it on purpose” — and that a “riot” almost broke out. He said of UNM’s apology that it “doesn’t help if it’s a fight” and added that the matter “has to be dealt with by the Mountain West.”
Leon Rice resigned from the New Mexico administration to leave the baseball team outside the locker room when the players came out after halftime. Said it got physical. pic.twitter.com/Xy4cjK8hGx
— BJ Rains (@BJRains) 21 January 2023
So, the Journal filed a request for a public records inspection of correspondence between UNM and the league office to see if the matter was raised, as Rice requested.
“I have every confidence that the rematch between the two institutions scheduled for Feb. 22 in Boise will be conducted without incident,” Mountain West Commissioner Gloria Nevarez wrote in a Jan. 24 memo to the league’s athletic directors after reviewing the incident and reports submitted by game day personnel at UNM.
The memo, obtained as part of the document request, praised both schools “for their professionalism and communication” in addressing the matter and noted that it was a good opportunity for all schools to “re-emphasize … preventive game handling procedures.”
She also noted that the conference conducted a “thorough review” of the case, and while parts of the public records were redacted, there was no indication in the released portions of the documents that any discipline was imposed as a result.
The Journal reached out to Boise State Athletic Director Jeremiah Dickey and Rice, through the team’s media liaison, for comment.
“We stand by the Mountain West’s assessment of the matter,” Dickey told the Journal in an email. “I appreciate Eddie (Nuñez, UNM’s AD), Gloria and their respective staffs, as well as our team, for acting quickly to reach a resolution and allow everyone to move forward productively.”
He also noted that he is “looking forward to a great game on Wednesday night!”
UNM’s incident report
UNM’s incident report included photos showing the visitors’ locker room at the Pit’s center ramp, which is located near a stairwell that goes up to the arena’s concourse area.
It has been used for years by large groups that gather in the midramp area during games to be walked down the Pit Ramp and recognized or honored on the field during timeouts.
In this case, the person who assembled the baseball team was working their first Lobo game, and the team went down the stairs before they were supposed to.
UNM administrators acknowledged to Rice in person that night that the team should never have been in that area at the time, but witnesses at the scene also told the Journal that night that it never seemed like a fight was close to happening. The incident report makes similar statements:
“Officer Camacho, who was stationed in the area, approached the confrontation and attempted to calm everyone down, but did not feel the need to report the incident. UNM had four police officers in the center ramp at the time, the report states.
UNM’s report to the league also included the following, noted in part above:
“According to (UNM marketing staff and two baseball players), BSU men’s basketball head coach, Leon Rice came out of the locker room and started cursing at the baseball team. The assumption is that Coach Rice thought his players were involved in the confrontation at the front of the hall. They weren’t. He began pushing his way through the crowd, telling the baseball team to “get out of his hallway.” Kam Walton responded that this is UNM’s way to which Coach Rice responded by ‘pinning’ Kam to the wall by going chest to chest with him. No baseball player reacted to Coach Rice’s action. Coach Rice then made his way down the hall and began a heated exchange with the referee.”
New Mexico at Boise State, 8:30 p.m., FS1, 770 AM/96.3 FM
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