New Mexico State abruptly suspended its men’s basketball program Friday, placing the coaching staff on paid administrative leave while opening an investigation into allegations of hazing.
‘Today I am announcing my decision to suspend operations for our men’s basketball program for the remainder of the season,’ university chancellor Dan Arvizu said in a statement released Sunday. ‘This action is clearly needed, especially after receiving additional facts and reviewing investigation reports related to the hazing allegations involving student-athletes on the team. Hazing has no place on our campus, and those found responsible will be held accountable for their actions. We must uphold the safety of our students and the integrity of our university. It’s time for this program to reset.’
A member of the team reported the hazing allegations to university police Feb. 10, according to a redacted incident report released by police Sunday.
As new information continues to emerge, here’s the latest on where things stand with New Mexico State men’s basketball.
What’s known about the hazing accusation
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An unidentified player went to police Feb. 10, stating he wanted to remain anonymous and didn’t want to pursue criminal charges. The ongoing hazing incidents allegedly occurred in the men’s basketball locker room at the Pan American Center and at away games, according to the police report. Three teammates were identified to police as being directly involved in the misconduct. Their names were redacted from the report.
The player alleging abuse told police that the most recent hazing incident occurred Feb. 6. He said three teammates held him face down and removed his clothing. The players struck his buttocks and touched his genitals, according to the report. The player said he ‘had no choice but to let this happen because it’s a 3 on 1 type of situation.’ He added that the abusive incidents usually occurred in front of the team and that no one intervened.
Police said the investigation remains ongoing.
A season in flux
In a letter to the campus community Saturday night, Arvizu wrote that he made the decision to suspend the operation of New Mexico State’s men’s basketball program after learning of the hazing allegations.
‘The most important job I have as Chancellor of the NMSU System is to ensure our students are safe and protected from harm,’ the university’s chancellor wrote. ‘That’s why I was so heartbroken and sickened to hear about these hazing allegations.’
When the decision was made, the Aggies had already traveled to California for their scheduled game Saturday against Cal Baptist. The game was canceled, and the team’s players were instead summoned back to campus, which is located in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Members of the coaching staff, including first-year head coach Greg Heiar, were placed on paid administrative leave.
‘A despicable act’
Arvizu’s letter did not provide any detail on the alleged behavior or acts behind the hazing allegations. But the chancellor called hazing a ‘despicable act.’
‘It humiliates and degrades someone and has the potential to cause physical and emotional harm, or even death,’ Arvizu wrote. ‘Sadly, hazing can become part of an organization’s culture, if left unchecked. NMSU policy strictly prohibits hazing, in all forms, and it’s something we simply will not tolerate.’
Hazing can take a variety of forms, from forcing someone to perform demeaning acts to verbal abuse to sexual assault.
Two players leave team
Meanwhile, two Aggies players announced Saturday that they are leaving the team.
‘Having served several years in the Israeli military, I was raised on the values of excellence, discipline, respect, reliability and accountability,’ freshman guard Shahar Lazar wrote in a post on social media. ‘However, in retrospect, I don’t think the program that I originally committed to aligns with my beliefs and core values.’
Kent Olewiler, a preferred walk-on who was not listed on the Aggies’ official roster, wrote on Twitter: ‘My recruitment is officially 100% Open.’
Neither player had appeared in a game this season.
What happens next?
At this point, there are more outstanding questions than answers.
The Aggies (9-15) have five games remaining in their season, including a scheduled home contest Wednesday against Abilene Christian. It’s unclear whether any of those games will be played.
Arvizu said Sunday he spoke with Western Athletic Conference commissioner Brian Thornton and informed him of the decision to suspend operations.
The New Mexico State men’s basketball program is also being examined as part of an unrelated investigation, stemming from a November shooting involving forward Mike Peake. Following a previous confrontation, Peake and a student at rival University of New Mexico exchanged gunshots, resulting in the latter’s death.
Three of Peake’s teammates then arrived on the scene, according to authorities, and left with the gun that Peake had fired, and his tablet. The items were later turned over to police by Aggies assistant coaches.
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.