PORTALES — The verdict is in: Eastern New Mexico University will remain in the Lone Star Conference.
A feasibility committee headed by ENMU professor Gene Smith recommended to university president Steven Gamble and the board of regents that the school continue its 25-year allegiance with the LSC after considering a possible move to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
After viewing the committee’s report, college president Steven Gamble said he was in agreement with the committee’s findings.
“Our main concern was a financial one — not that we would be spending less (in the RMAC),” Gamble said. “In time, I think we’ll be spending more.”
ENMU athletic director Jeff Geiser said the study took in “a multitude of factors,” adding: “I can’t say enough about the work of the feasibility committee.”
Among the considerations, he said, was cost containment primarily relating to travel expense. While the LSC will shrink from 16 to 11 teams after the current school year with five Oklahoma schools moving to other conferences, the RMAC is a bit more far-flung with institutions in New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska.
“We’re not going to realize any significant savings (by making a switch),” Geiser said, adding that the teams generally travel on better highways and in better weather in the LSC than they would in the RMAC.
More important, he said, was feedback from the general community and from ENMU athletes, many of whom hail from Texas. Geiser said all of ENMU’s 52 football players from Texas told the committee they wouldn’t have come to ENMU if the school weren’t in the LSC.
“Part of the attraction of ENMU was that their moms and dads could see them play,” he said.
ENMU football coach Mark Ribaudo said from his perspective, he would’ve been happy either way.
Still, he’s happy to still be in the LSC, where he’s coached since 1990 at West Texas A&M and ENMU.
“We’ve got good rivalries, good relationships,” he said. “We identify with Texas a lot, being only 15 miles from the border.
“I’m at the point where whoever we’re playing, I’m just trying to wind the game. I’m excited about being able to compete with some of the best teams in the country. But if the scales had tipped the other way, we’d have jumped right in there.”
Gamble said the Texas members of the LSC are generally better funded in athletics than ENMU, making it a challenge to stay competitive.
“I hope the playing field stays level with the Texas teams,” Gamble said. “We didn’t have a perfect solution, but we made the decision based on the long-team interests of the institution and our student-athletes.”