The New Mexico State men’s basketball program was suspended indefinitely amid an investigation into multiple hazing incidents. The allegations surfaced on Friday night as the Aggies were preparing for a game against Cal Baptist University in Riverside, California. Saturday’s scheduled contest was officially canceled as the team returned to Las Cruces, NM.
New Mexico State University’s Chancellor, Dan Arvizu, released a statement on Saturday acknowledging the hazing allegations associated with the men’s program and confirmed that he decided to suspend the team’s operations “until further notice.” Arvizu indicated that the University had launched an investigation into the allegations and had already interviewed members of the team once they arrived back on campus. Meanwhile, the entire coaching staff was placed on paid administrative leave.
Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reported that the allegations involved multiple Aggies players hazing one of their teammates on more than one occasion. A police report filed in the preceding 24 hours to Arvizu’s statement triggered the program’s shutdown. Chancellor Arvizu said that he took immediate action to ensure that hazing wouldn’t become the norm within the program. He wrote that “hazing can become part of an organization’s culture if left unchecked,” and condemned the practice as “something we simply will not tolerate.”
Hazing can take many forms, including forcing someone to perform demeaning or strenuous tasks, verbal abuse, harassment, or even sexual assault. It did not take long for NMSU to issue a decision to cancel the remainder of its men’s basketball season. Arvizu made the announcement on Sunday afternoon after the school reviewed a campus police report that cited three players for false imprisonment, harassment, and criminal sexual contact against a teammate.
On February 10, the unnamed victim went to campus police intending to file a report regarding a possible assault that happened four days earlier. The player alleged that three of his teammates held him face-down on the ground, removed his clothing, slapped his buttocks, and touched his scrotum. He also told police that similar incidents had been occurring since July or August of 2022, but he did not want to pursue criminal charges. Inappropriate physical and sexual touching by his teammates had been an ongoing issue inside locker rooms located at both NMSU’s home arena and on road trips. The victim said that “he had no choice but to let this happen because it’s a 3-on-1 type of situation.” It is alleged that these incidents would usually happen in front of the whole team yet no one ever intervened. Additionally, the police report suggests that there could be another member of the team who has been subjected to hazing and inappropriate conduct.
A few hours before Arvizu’s initial letter addressing the allegations was issued, two Aggies players announced on social media that they were leaving the team. Neither had played for NMSU so far this season. Shahar Lazar, who had previously served in the Israeli military and planned to redshirt his freshman year, said he was leaving because “[he didn’t] think the program that [he] originally committed to aligns with [his] beliefs and core values.” Kent Olewiler, a preferred walk-on who was not listed on the official team roster, simply said that his “recruitment is 100% open.” A third player, Kyle Feit, announced his departure from the program on Sunday evening and stated that he is “looking to find a place that aligns with [his family’s values].”
In a statement on the University’s website, the New Mexico State University Board of Regents announced that it will hold a closed-door meeting on Tuesday regarding matters that “may include discussion of personally identifiable information about individual NMSU students.” The NCAA and WAC will have to consider scheduling adjustments in the wake of NMSU’s shutdown. The 12 remaining WAC teams will qualify for the conference tournament, but it is still undecided how games that would have included NMSU will affect seeding. Each entity has stated that they are “continuing to monitor the situation at New Mexico State and at this time [have] no additional comment.”
This is not the first controversy the Aggies have dealt with this season under the leadership of first-year coach, Greg Heiar. Nearly three months ago, 21-year-old junior power forward, Mike Peake, was involved in a pre-dawn shooting on the University of New Mexico’s campus in Albuquerque.
21-year-old Chicago native Mike Peake, Power Forward for the New Mexico State Aggies – Image from Sports Illustrated
At around 3 a.m. on November 19, Peake was allegedly attacked by at least three University of New Mexico students who conspired to lure him to campus and assault him. During the altercation, a deadly shooting broke out and resulted in the death of 19-year-old, Brandon Travis. Through an investigation, agents learned that Travis had conspired with a 17-year-old female and at least two of Travis’s male friends to entice Peake to UNM’s campus.
A brawl at an October 15 UNM-NMSU rivalry football game in Las Cruces was a precursor to the events that led to the shootings. The “planned revenge beating” escalated when Travis shot Peake, who allegedly responded in self-defense by exchanging gunfire with Travis. The shootout left Travis dead at the scene while Peake was hospitalized with a leg wound that has since required several surgeries.
The 17-year-old girl, Mya Hill, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery and conspiracy. A 19-year-old male UNM student, Eli-sha Upshaw, was also charged with aggravated battery, conspiracy, and tampering with evidence. Upshaw allegedly helped lure Peake to UNM’s campus, attacked him with a baseball bat, and tried to hide and destroy evidence. Jonathan Smith, another 19-year-old UNM student, pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery with great bodily harm and tampering with evidence as part of a plea deal where he could face up to three years in prison.
The incident caused that weekend’s UNM-NMSU basketball game and a December 3 rematch in Las Cruces to be canceled. Peake was suspended from the team but has not been charged in the case. The Albuquerque district attorney and New Mexico State Police are conducting an ongoing investigation.
In December, New Mexico State University announced that it would launch an independent investigation into the events and the University’s response to the situation. After the shooting, multiple NMSU staffers took possession of Peake’s gun and other potential evidence that was later recovered by New Mexico State Police. Heiar instructed his team to leave town and return to campus after the shooting despite local police asking to speak with three NMSU players who had picked up the wounded Peake and transported him to the hospital. The team bus was stopped on a highway by State Police as it traveled back to Las Cruces. What the authorities discovered was astonishing.
Lorenzo Jenkins, a special assistant to Heiar, had Peake’s tablet in a backpack and an unnamed NMSU administrator possessed Peake’s phone. The gun used by Peake in the shooting was located at the hotel where the team was staying in Albuquerque. An assistant coach, Dominque Taylor, had the gun wrapped in a towel after Heiar called and told him that NMSU players Marchelus Avery, Issa Muhammad, and Anthony Roy could tell him where to find the weapon.
It is unclear how and where exactly the items were transported after the shooting occurred. ESPN’s attempts to gather personnel files on the coaches and staffers at NMSU have been repeatedly delayed by the school. Justin Bannister, NMSU Associate Vice President of Communications, stated that the University’s original, separate investigation into the Peake shooting and aftermath is still “ongoing.” State Police have determined that the gun Peake possessed was legal, but the gun used by Travis was stolen in June from a man’s truck in Clovis, NM.
The Aggies entered this past weekend struggling with a record of 9-15 overall and 2-10 in WAC play. Only two members of last year’s NCAA tournament team returned for this season. One of them was Peake, who is now suspended indefinitely from the team. The school is supposed to move to Conference USA in July of this year; however, the future of the men’s basketball program and the University’s leadership is unknown. The New Mexico Board of Regents recently decided not to renew the contract of Chancellor Arvizu, which expires in June. Additionally, both the school’s president and provost have resigned or been removed from their positions within the past 14 months. County prosecutors and independent investigators hired by NMSU are continuing to look into the actions and involvement of the players, coaches, and other staff members in connection with these incidents.
No criminal charges had been filed against any of the three accused players as of late Sunday afternoon and Heiar and his coaching staff are technically still employed. The question surrounding his job status is no longer if, but when will his short stint as NMSU’s head coach come to an end?
New Mexico State Aggies Head Coach, Greg Heiar – Image from The Athletic
Heiar signed a five-year contract in April of 2022 that pays him $300,000 per year. Certain elements of his contract could help the University potentially terminate him and his staff for cause. The contract stipulates that Heiar has a duty to maintain “institutional control over every aspect of the program.” He has failed to do so repeatedly. Peake had a gun on a team road trip. As many as four Aggies skipped curfew and were out past 3 a.m. NMSU assistant coaches and staff members were found to possess evidence from a crime scene, which included Peake’s gun, tablet, and phone. A few players hazed and abused at least one of their teammates multiple times. Hazing is prohibited by the NMSU code of conduct.
One way NMSU could presumably fire Heiar for cause involves a potential failure to promptly report known violations of NCAA or University rules and regulations. Another route includes “a serious or intentional violation” of any laws, rules, or regulations of the University or NCAA. The scope of each provision extends to the players and staff members under Heiar’s supervision.
NCAA member institutions are obligated to maintain appropriate levels of institutional control. Those that are determined to lack institutional control typically are put on probation, forced to vacate wins, or banned from the postseason. Programs may also experience a reduction in scholarships. The NCAA enforces this policy through strict liability. This means that a coach is responsible for what goes on in his program and cannot claim he did not know what was going on while he wasn’t watching. A “show-cause” penalty is attached to any coach involved when a lack of institutional control is found. This prevents a coach from escaping punishment for violations that he had a role in committing or allowing even if he moves to a new school.
Maybe Heiar’s last three coaching stops should have been red flags for NMSU’s Athletic Director, Mario Moccia. Heiar worked under Larry Eustachy for two years at Southern Miss. Eustachy has lost two jobs for off-court actions and allegedly abusive behavior toward players and staff. Heiar coached at Wichita State for six years under Gregg Marshall, who resigned after allegations of verbal and physical abuse. Finally, Heiar was an assistant to Will Wade at LSU for three years. Wade was fired after being charged with major NCAA violations stemming from an investigation into alleged payments to players.
According to an NMSU spokesperson, the NMSU Board of Regents cannot make any decision to terminate an employee behind closed doors. This means that Heiar’s fate will likely be sealed in an open session. However, there is one exception. Chancellor Arvizu reserves the right to make personnel changes without the Board’s approval. Removing Heiar immediately would be the right call.