ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico State has inked an agreement that opens the possibility for the Aggies to make an appearance in the New Mexico Bowl or other postseason games owned by ESPN Events.
New Mexico State athletic director Mario Moccia announced the six-year deal during a news conference Friday in Albuquerque. It gives officials with ESPN Events and the New Mexico Bowl the opportunity to select the Aggies should the team be eligible for postseason play.
In recent years, the New Mexico Bowl has pulled teams from the Mountain West or Conference USA. As an independent, New Mexico State had an agreement with the Arizona Bowl but that concludes at the end of the 2019 season.
Under the new agreement, New Mexico State also has the option to play in other bowl games if not selected for any of the ESPN bowls.
"A perfect opportunity," Moccia said of the new arrangement.
He pointed to the proximity of New Mexico State to Albuquerque, which hosts the New Mexico Bowl each December. He also said the Albuquerque area has the largest population of Aggie alumni in the U.S. beyond NMSU's home territory in southern New Mexico.
Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events, said the Aggie fan base is passionate and the sporting events promoter looks forward to hosting them in Albuquerque.
The announcement comes as New Mexico State (0-3) prepares to face rival New Mexico (1-1) in Albuquerque on Saturday. The game typically draws large crowds, a must for the Lobos this time as they look to boost their attendance numbers to avoid running afoul of NCAA requirements.
The Lobos must average 15,000 in attendance over six homes games this season to meet the two-year average mandated by the NCAA. The Albuquerque Journal reported Friday that if New Mexico misses the mark this season, the Lobos could potentially be ruled ineligible for postseason competition in 2020.
New Mexico deputy athletic director Dave Williams said Saturday's game is crucial for multiple reasons.
"This gives us an opportunity to prove ourselves," he said. "Our hope is that we show fans a great time that they make the decision to come back for another game or more games."
Moccia said Aggies fans sometimes see the interstate games as "David vs. Goliath" bouts — especially since New Mexico State's annual athletic budget of $18 million to $20 million is nearly half that New Mexico's budget.
"I don't see it that way but I am competitive," Moccia said.
As for postseason, the Lobos went to the New Mexico Bowl in 2015 and 2016. The team finished 3-9 each of the last two seasons.
The Aggies also finished 3-9 last season. In 2017, New Mexico State won in its first bowl game in 57 years, beating Utah State 26-20 in the Arizona Bowl.
Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.