LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – The Western Athletic Conference formally ruled New Mexico State’s final six games as forfeits for the league standings on Monday, after the program canceled its season on Sunday afternoon amid serious hazing allegations.
“While there is no perfect solution to this unfortunate situation, I believe we landed in the right place,” WAC Commissioner Brian Thornton said. “I applaud our athletic directors for working collaboratively with our staff to reach this decision.”
First-year head coach Greg Heiar and his entire coaching staff have been placed on paid administrative leave, after the release of a police report in which one NMSU player alleges that three of his teammates sexually assaulted him for over six months, both in the Pan American Center locker room and on the road.
The victim told police he did not want to file charges, but the New Mexico State University police report states the investigation is still ongoing and the offenses described by the victim include criminal sexual contact, false imprisonment and harassment. A lawyer told KTSM on Monday that charges could still be filed, despite the victim not doing so as of now.
“Technically, it’s not up to the alleged victim on whether or not they want to pursue charges. That’s always up to the district attorney on whether or not they want to pursue charges,” said Ramona Martinez, a Las Cruces Defense attorney.
Martinez looked over the police report, explaining that it groups all three suspects together for the three allegations.
“Criminal sexual contact, there was touching of a body part that he obviously did not give consent, so it would also depend on who did that, who committed that allegation because not necessarily every person partook in each one of those felonies,” Martinez said.
Shahar Lazar, a redshirt freshman on the 2022-23 roster, became the first Aggie to speak publicly to the media regarding the incidents. After leaving the team on Saturday, Lazar spoke with ESPN on Monday.
“All I want is the guy it happened to, to be OK – he’s the main concern,” Lazar told ESPN. However, when he was asked if he had any knowledge of the alleged incidents in the locker room, Lazar said, “I can’t discuss it much. Rumors were around but I don’t have much to say about it.”
The allegations of criminal sexual contact and other grave offenses in the NMSU locker room are the latest incidents to come to light in a tumultuous 2022-23 season under Heiar that also included: the arrest and firing of an assistant coach; an Oct. 15 fight involving two players at the UNM-NMSU football game against multiple UNM students; and then a deadly shooting in Albuquerque on Nov. 19 involving Aggies forward Mike Peake and four UNM students that was allegedly in retaliation to the fight.
KTSM reached out to 10 former NMSU players, coaches and staff members, who all spent time at NMSU at some point between 2017 and 2022 under former a head coach Chris Jans. To a person, all of them said that incidents like the serious hazing that is alleged to have occurred this season under Heiar, never happened during the 2017-2022 time frame.
Former NMSU head coach Chris Jans – now the head coach at Mississippi State – also weighed in on NMSU’s current situation when asked at his weekly press conference on Monday.
“I’m just sad for everybody involved,” Jans said. “It’s just a tough situation for a lot of people. Their fan base is a loyal fan base. They love Aggie basketball. It’s just very unfortunate for, not just their program, but for college basketball in general. I hate seeing it. Been thinking about a lot of people that are directly involved. I’m hoping for better days for all of them.”
KTSM is continuing to investigate those statements from the former players, but their claims that it didn’t exist before March, 2022, when Heiar was hired, could signal that the culture in Heiar’s program at NMSU turned toxic quickly.
After canceling the remainder of the season on Sunday, NMSU chancellor Dan Arvizu said in a statement, “This action is clearly needed, especially after receiving additional facts and reviewing investigation reports related to the hazing allegations involving student-athletes on the team. Hazing has no place on our campus, and those found responsible will be held accountable for their actions. We must uphold the safety of our students and the integrity of our university. It’s time for this program to reset.”
Heiar was hired by New Mexico State in April of 2022 and signed a five-year contract that pays him $300,000 annually. However, there are certain elements of Heiar’s contract that the university could explore to potentially terminate Heiar and his staff for cause given what has transpired this season.
While the staff is currently still employed by NMSU and on paid administrative leave, Heiar’s contract stipulates that he has a duty to monitor “institutional control and program management.”
“Coach recognizes and acknowledges the importance of maintaining and observing the principles of institutional control over every aspect of the Program,” the contract reads in Section 1.1: Reporting and Institutional Control.
Under Section 1.2: Program Management, Heiar’s contract reads, “Coach must faithfully perform the customary duties of a head coach, including managing and supervising the Program, and must perform such other duties University’s athletics programs, consistent with his status as head coach, as the Director may assign.”
Further down in Heiar’s contract are 15 stipulations in which the university could terminate him with cause. Of those 15, two stick out in particular regarding the current state of the NMSU program.
One way the university could potential terminate Heiar for cause is a “failure by coach to report promptly to the Director any violations known to Coach of the Rules or University policy, rules or regulations, by assistant coaches, students, or other persons under direct control or supervision of Coach.”
Hazing is prohibited by the NMSU student code of conduct.
A second way the school could presumably fire Heiar for cause, per his contract, is “a serious or intentional violation (or if University has a reasonable basis for believing that a serious or intentional violation occurred) by Coach (or any other person under Coach’s supervision and direction) of any law, rule, regulation, constitutional provision, bylaw or interpretation of University, the Conference or the NCAA.”
Another subsection of Heiar’s contract – which the school could be investigating for potential usage – is Section 5.8: Termination by Mutual Agreement.
That section of Heiar’s contract states that “Coach may request a voluntary mutual termination of this Agreement, which if granted, must be in writing and signed by University Chancellor or designee. In the event University grants the request and agrees to a mutual termination, the University’s payment to Coach of wages and benefits specified in Section 3 above and earned prior to the date of such agreed upon termination will be in full satisfaction of all claims by Coach against University under this Agreement. Futhermore, upon mutual termination the Coach would not owe any money to the University, including, but not limited to, liquidated damages.”
According to Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News, all of the assistant coaches are on one-year deals that expire April 30.
It must be reiterated again that Heiar is still employed and on paid leave as of Monday, Feb. 13. However, the NMSU Board of Regents will meet on Tuesday to discuss personnel matters in a closed session.
The board cannot make any decision to terminate an employee behind closed doors; it must be done in an open session. However, NMSU’s chancellor does reserve the right to make personnel changes without board approval, according to an NMSU spokesperson.