I have seen a lot of discussion over the past week or so about the increasing number of games between Division I schools and schools belonging to Division II, Division III and the NAIA. Division I rules allow a maximum of four such games in a season, but why do Division II schools make it on Division I schedules? Specifically, why did New Mexico State schedule Wednesday night's game against WNMU?
Western New Mexico University is a Division II school in Silver City, about a two-hour drive northwest of Las Cruces. The Mustangs roster has only one player from outside the vicinity of Phoenix to El Paso, and he is from east Texas. The player from Las Cruces brought in some family members for the game.
The Mustangs entered the game in Las Cruces with a 2-5 record. After losing two exhibition games at Division I schools (against New Mexico and Northern Arizona), WNMU dropped three nonconference games at former conference rivals Hawaii-Hilo and Hawaii Pacific. (When Western was in the Pac West Conference, its nearest conference rivals were the Yellowjackets of Montana State-Billings. The other six conference members were Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska-Fairbanks, Hawaii-Hilo, Hawaii Pacific, BYU-Hawaii and Chaminade. Someone -- likely from the finance office -- came to his or her senses in 2005, and WNMU rejoined the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference with schools mostly in Colorado and a couple each in New Mexico and Nebraska.) WNMU then started conference play with a split of two games in Denver and finally had a home weekend, splitting another two RMAC tilts.
So why would the Aggies schedule WNMU? First, proximity: Only UTEP is closer to NMSU among all colleges. The guarantee paid to WNMU is likely less than anyone else would need; the road team returned home after the game. Second, they have a history. NMSU has played about 100 games against WNMU going back to 1914. At one point in the 80s, New Mexico's larger schools stopped scheduling the Division II schools. The legislature responded by conditioning the state appropriations to UNM and NMSU on having their men's basketball teams play one of the three Division II schools (Western New Mexico, Eastern New Mexico and New Mexico Highlands). So, even though it has not been in the state budget for several years, you might say there is political encouragement to continue to schedule in-state games.
Part of that history is a game from the final pre-shot clock year. Western's coach showed up in a tux and tails, and the Mustangs sat on the ball for as much of the first half as they could. Halftime score: 8-6. The Aggies got a couple of steals early after halftime and managed to make the second half more normal, winning fairly easily.
The third reason is more general. Playing a Division II guarantee game is not the RPI poison that playing a bottom 20-ranked team would be, because the game is not included in the RPI. For a school like NMSU, which tries to position itself for an at-large bid to the tournament should it not win the conference tournament, this is an important consideration, and the Aggies play two such games this season.
Twenty minutes before the tip, there were about 100 people in the Pan American Center. The game started off encouragingly for the Mustangs, as they scored the first five and the Aggies' best player, forward Wendell McKines, missed his first three shots. With just more than three minutes gone, the Aggies finally scored, and by the first media timeout, they were up 15-12.
The rout was on from there, and the Aggies led by 21 at the half, joined by a gradually arriving crowd of around 3,000. The Aggies played everyone on the bench extensively in the second half and won 92-65, with the crowd drifting out gradually just like they arrived. There were only a few hundred left for the final horn, left to wonder why they were still there.
at NEW MEXICO STATE 92, WESTERN NEW MEXICO 65 12/14/2011
NEW MEXICO STATE 6-4 (0-0) -- P. Garnica 6-15 3-3 18; D. Mullings 3-8 2-2 9; W. McKines 6-14 5-6 18; T. de Rouen 2-3 2-5 6; H. Laroche 6-9 4-5 18; T. Nephawe 2-5 8-10 12; H. Rahman 5-6 3-7 13; B. Sy 2-6 2-2 6; R. Barry 1-3 4-4 7; R. Dixon 1-3 1-2 3; T. Watson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-57 31-43 92.
Three-point goals: - , NMSU 5-17 (W. McKines 1-4; H. Laroche 2-3; B. Sy 0-2; R. Dixon 0-1; R. Barry 1-2; T. de Rouen 0-1; D. Mullings 1-4); Rebounds: , NMSU 46 (H. Rahman 13); Assists: , NMSU 11 (H. Laroche 3); Total Fouls -- , NMSU 17; Fouled Out: -; NMSU-None.