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New Mexico State Mishandled Incident

New Mexico State ended a week of seemingly botched public relations and gratuitous statements quietly Monday. If only the Aggies would have acted similarly from the unfortunate beginning.

Closure came for New Mexico State and the Big West Conference in a two-page statement released by the conference office. The conference acknowledged receipt of New Mexico State’s report from its four-day investigation into the origin of an anti-Semitic epithet and several alleged incidents of racism purported to be directed at Long Beach State on Jan. 22 in Las Cruces, N.M.

As expected, the findings confirmed previous reports that New Mexico State did not uncover the origin of the message directed at 49er Coach Seth Greenberg, who is Jewish. The report did not corroborate Long Beach’s allegations that its African American players were the object of repeated racial slurs by spectators during New Mexico State’s 76-63 victory. The report also includes a plan for improved security around the visitors’ locker room at the Pan American Center, New Mexico State’s arena.

This is more than enough to placate New Mexico State and Big West officials, who by the middle of last week wished no one had ever heard of SportsCenter. Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell would encourage conference members to play in a parking lot at 2 a.m. if ESPN wanted it, but the previous week’s expansive media coverage isn’t what he had in mind.

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New Mexico State and the Big West hope the whole thing will just fade away.

But Long Beach isn’t as eager to shake hands and make up.

“We certainly don’t think this investigation is complete,” Long Beach Athletic Director Dave O’Brien said. “New Mexico State might be satisfied with it, but we’re not.”

O’Brien questions the report because no one from Long Beach was interviewed. And this followed his already numerous concerns about New Mexico State’s actions and public statements.

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“It’s hard to understand how a report could be thorough when no one from Long Beach State was questioned,” he said. “How you can have an investigation and not talk to the people involved in the incident and affected by it, is incomprehensible.

“It speaks to the futility of this investigative effort.”

For the Big West, the investigation wasn’t about identifying culprits. The conference sought a detailed security plan from New Mexico State on preventing future incidents. Furthermore, the Big West wanted to review the performance of game-management staff in responding to the alleged sideline comments.

“It was never really the intention on our part to find out who wrote [the epithet], because it would be virtually impossible to find out who did it,” Farrell said.

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The conference achieved its goals. However, Long Beach officials believe their input might have at least helped.

New Mexico State initially angered Long Beach when it went on the offensive Jan. 24. In a letter of apology to Long Beach President Robert Maxson, signed by vice president William Conroy on behalf of President J. Michael Orenduff, New Mexico State admonished Greenberg for criticizing the university and its fans in a post-game tirade.

He stated that Greenberg “impugned New Mexico State University and the entire State of New Mexico based on one anonymous piece of paper and alleged remarks which came from a very small number of people and which, in fact, were heard differently by persons close to the scene.” Moreover, Conroy alluded to the recent death of Greenberg’s father, Ralph, as a possible explanation for what he perceived as an inappropriate reaction.

Greenberg said he was incensed by the letter. The reference to a piece of paper was a major inaccuracy (the epithet was written on a grease board). Alluding to his father’s death was, at the very least, inappropriate and insensitive, Greenberg said.

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From the outset, Greenberg believed New Mexico State cared little about the night’s events. The letter and comments attributed to associate athletic director Herb Taylor reinforced his beliefs.

“All along, I said I just wanted them to do what their conscience told them was right,” Greenberg said. “I guess they came to the conclusion that was in their best interest.”

Perhaps Greenberg should have expressed his outrage differently that evening, but he was working on pure emotion from the incidents and his team’s defeat. But New Mexico State officials appeared more concerned about the university’s reputation than the investigation.

Also, the letter was sent to an Associated Press reporter before Maxson received it. Maxson learned of the letter from reporters throughout the country who called for his comments.

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“We released it somewhat premature, and that was my fault,” said Nena Singleton, director of New Mexico State communications. “I was not aware it was not in President Maxson’s hands.”

Greenberg and New Mexico State Coach Neil McCarthy weren’t exactly fishing buddies before Jan. 22.

Caught in the middle was Steve Shutt, New Mexico State assistant athletic director of media relations. Shutt, among those handling the investigation, was not consulted about the letter. He also learned of it from reporters seeking comment.

Shutt was among the few New Mexico State officials who identified the potential for disaster and tried to avert it. He said he went to Greenberg upon learning of the situation and apologized.

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Late that evening, Shutt shared with reporters a sound plan for handling the situation. Clearly, it wasn’t executed properly.

“I think there were misunderstandings on both sides,” Singleton said. “We have expressed deep regret and we’ve learned a great deal. We are the better for it and we’re moving on.”

Long Beach hosts New Mexico State on Feb. 10 at the Pyramid.

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Let’s get physical: Wonder how UC Irvine ended up in first place? Irvine, which played with no enthusiasm during a lost weekend at UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton three weeks ago, has come back with a tough, new work ethic that has spawned a bit of a bad-boy image during a four-game winning streak.

Irvine’s defensive front hammered on Utah State’s post players during Saturday night’s victory and held high-flying forward Silas Mills to four second-half points. It’s probably not a coincidence that Mills twice went down to the floor very hard in the first half after flying to the basket and going over an Irvine defender.

Mills, who finished with 16 points Saturday, had 23 points--including five dunks and three swooping layups--last year as Utah State routed Irvine, 94-67, in Logan.

“We’ve really dug in on defense,” Irvine Coach Rod Baker said. “Last year, we just got out of Mills’ way and he had like 10 dunks. This year, we contested him. We took some charges.”

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Can Irvine sustain the intensity this week when it hosts second-place UC Santa Barbara Thursday night and third-place Long Beach State Saturday night?

“Maybe it’s a lot to expect,” Baker said, “but it’s certainly not too much to ask.”


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