Time for conference to give Highlands the boot | Local Columns

There comes a point in every relationship when enough is enough.

You can’t stand the way she chews her food.

It sickens you to watch him bite his nails.

The back and forth banter is replaced by uninterested stares.

For the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference’s longstanding partnership with New Mexico Highlands University — 26 years and counting — it’s time to pack the school’s bags and send ‘em off in a different direction.

The RMAC’s constitution states that a two-thirds vote of its members institutions is enough to start the expulsion or suspension process for anyone in the conference. Given the state of things at NMHU, it’s an option that should at least be explored.

Highlands has fallen behind with its upkeep to the point that extreme measures have to be taken.

From this vantage point it’s not necessarily the school’s fault. Money is tighter than ever as the state’s economic belt-tightening that has made life miserable from The University of New Mexico to Northern New Mexico College. Pinching pennies and cutting back in sports is simply a way of life.

Thing is, that life is worse than it ever has been at NMHU. It’s bad enough that the school’s athletic department has lingered in obscurity for most of its existence in the league. It’s even worse that the current state of the school’s flagship outdoor facility looks more like an abandoned Olympic venue in a war-torn country than a place where college athletes come to compete.

A walk through Perkins Stadium is literally a trip into a construction project brought to its knees by Mother Nature and simple economics. The planned resurfacing of the football field is still several weeks behind schedule. Where once there was a smooth green playing field is now a muddy stretch of subsurface soil bordered by deep drainage ditches, exposed pipe and weeds rising from every crack imaginable.

Surrounding it is a track that is, to put it mildly, a dangerous eyesore. The surface is faded and buckled, making a tripping hazard for anyone not paying attention. The steeplechase pit is filled with tepid water and lined with weeds, the end zone near the old fieldhouse is overrun by unkempt trees and shrubs.

The delays have forced the school’s football and women’s soccer teams off campus. On Friday NMHU announced that its football opener scheduled for Aug. 31 would be moved just a few blocks away to West Las Vegas High School.

It was also revealed that its women’s soccer team would play the early portion of its home schedule (if not all of it) on the road at the Taos Eco Park.

What’s more, there’s no place on campus for the teams to practice. The football team shares space at West Las Vegas with the Dons’ varsity and sub-varsity football and soccer teams, often splitting the field in half as college men squeeze onto one side and the high school kids onto the other.

It’s women’s soccer program practices a few miles away at the World College.

It’s an embarrassing turn of events for a school that has already been dealing with an inferiority complex in a conference that has produced a number of NCAA Division II national championships— 59 of them since Highlands joined its ranks in 1991.

Cowboys football coach Marty Fine shrugged off the logistical headaches, saying he has no other choice but to use West Las Vegas and make the most of it.

Thing is, this is college sports. College athletes earned their keep by excelling in high school. They reached the next level with certain expectations, the kind where the schools they represent will provide the bare necessities.

What kind of message does it send to the NMHU athletes, its fans and every team that visits that the on-campus facility is a giant mess and the only alternative is a high school field that (by the way) is also undergoing a delayed renovation of its own?

The RMAC deserves more out of its pigtail members.

The NMHU athletes and fans deserve more out of their school.

Despite the efforts of a few generous people — namely the $600,000 donation by Highlands board of directors chairman Leveo Sanchez — the writing is on the wall. For a conference with a history that dates back more than a century, it’s time for the RMAC to consider cutting ties with the one member that has proven it just can’t keep up.

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