The Aggie volleyball team kicks off their 2012 campaign this weekend when they travel to DeKalb, Ill to take on a very tough field in the Northern Illinois Invitational. Aggie play-by-play man Kyle Doperalski pointed out that the opening weekend is a tough one for the Aggies with three of the four teams participating (Northern Illinois, North Dakota State and Wichita State who is receiving votes in the AVCA's Top 25 preseason poll) having made the NCAA Tournament last season. In fact, the Aggies are the outsider in the group. Next weekend's home tournament doesn't get any easier with Northwestern, Cincinnati (receiving votes) and Drake coming to town and weekend number three will likely represent the toughest teams the Aggies will face all season when they head to Fort Collins for the Colorado State tournament where they'll take on host No. 25 Colorado State, No. 11 Pepperdine and Florida International.
As is always the case every season the Aggies' success will hinge on their ability to pass the ball well on serve receive and play strong defense (both blocking and floor defense). This year unlike years past the Aggies have some question marks at setter. The Aggies have had an embarrassment of riches at the setter position over the past decade-plus with Morgan Reeder, Jackie Choi, Alyssa Gintant and of course four-time AVCA All-American Jennah DeVries. The Aggies are absolutely loaded with arms this year across the board. WAC Preseason Player of the Year Meredith Hays is back, Bradley Nash is back from an ACL injury that ended her season prematurely last year, the Aggies have also added Cal transfer Lauren Loerch and in the middle is preseason All-WAC middle blocker Desiree Scott.
The Aggies have plenty of options offensively the question will be can they find a setter who can get them the ball. We'll find out over the course of the next three weekends before the Aggies enter WAC play.
WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd announced (to no one's surprise, in fact he pretty much stated the fact at the WAC football media day) that the WAC will be dropping football (at least for 2013) after this season. Idaho already anticipated the move and made their intentions for playing football independently known last week. The Aggies, reacting to the news from Hurd yesterday, stated that they have also been making preparations to play football independently for 2013. As has been noted by both Jason Groves and Teddy Feinberg we know that the Aggies have at least four confirmed games (at Texas, at UCLA, at UNM and home vs. UTEP) plus an "agreement" to play Idaho twice (once in Las Cruces, once in Moscow). That's a total of six games out of the 12 needed for a full schedule. Dr. Boston stated to the Sun-News that the Aggies have agreements for between nine and 12 games. While we don't know who those other six teams might be, we do know that at least three of the games will need to be in Las Cruces. It's probably a safe bet that at least one of those games will be against an FCS opponent (and there could even be two games against FCS teams, it was done twice during the Hal Mumme era when the team played SE Louisiana and Texas Southern in 2006 and SE Louisiana and Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 2007).
The big question mark is, will the Aggies be able to survive financially as an athletic department for two years of independence (and what will the books look like at the end of those two years). Consider that there will be no conference bowl payouts (unless the Aggies make a bowl game) and there may not even be any BCS payouts (we're not sure how the payouts are handled with regards to Independent teams). It's also safe to assume that the WAC will lose its television contracts for all sports (with just three schools remaining assuming Idaho leaves for the Big Sky).
Then there's the question of whether the Aggies can command high six-figure payouts for "body bag games" as they have in the past. The Aggies received somewhere in the neighborhood of $925K to play at Georgia last year and they're likely getting good money for their game at Texas (which was inked several years ago) but the Aggies have now lost all leverage. They NEED games and those big schools know it. What's to prevent those big-time BCS schools (and even middle tier BCS schools) from offering the Aggies a "take-it-or-leave-it" amount that is half (or even less) than what they've been paying out previously? Perhaps those middle-tier BCS schools will start offering to just pay travel expenses.
We already know that the BCS schools hate supporting the "little guys" (hence the fight over sharing BCS monies, allowing the little guys to even play in the BCS games, etc) so you can be damn sure that these schools aren't going to feel sorry for New Mexico State and cut a million-dollar check for a football game when they know they can probably squeeze the Aggies for a cheaper game.
It's likely that fellow mid-major schools aren't (even now) paying out large amounts of money for home-and-home games (i.e. the Ohio series which concludes this year). So the question of financial solvency for the athletic department is a major, major concern (particularly since athletic budgets at New Mexico State are already at a bare minimum). These issues are not just pertinent to New Mexico State either. We're sure that Idaho is facing the same issues (and they're in an even harder to get to place in Moscow).
It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds over the course of the next few months.
Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News talks about the Aggies' pending football independence.
Coy Slavic of the El Paso Times features Aggie senior Vanessa Thomas.
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