New Mexico State's chancellor says university personnel interviewed members of the men's basketball team Saturday in the wake of hazing allegations that prompted him to suspend the program and place the coaching staff on paid administrative leave.
In a letter to the campus community, Dan Arvizu, the chancellor of the New Mexico State University system, said he decided to pause men's basketball to ensure that hazing wouldn't become the norm within the program.
"The most important job I have as Chancellor of the NMSU System is to ensure our students are safe and protected from harm," Arvizu said. "That's why I was so heartbroken and sickened to hear about these hazing allegations. Hazing is a despicable act. It humiliates and degrades someone and has the potential to cause physical and emotional harm, or even death. Sadly, hazing can become part of an organization's culture, if left unchecked. NMSU policy strictly prohibits hazing, in all forms, and it's something we simply will not tolerate."
Arvizu said the men's basketball program, which canceled the Saturday game at Cal Baptist and suspended all team operations pending an investigation, would remain sidelined "until further notice."
"We took this action after receiving reports of alleged hazing incidents within our men's basketball team," Arvizu said in the letter. "Our players and coaches were in California at the time, preparing to play Cal Baptist. To ensure we fully understood this situation, we canceled that game, called the team back to Las Cruces and placed the coaching staff on paid administrative leave. Once our student-athletes arrived on campus, they were met and interviewed by university personnel who are specially trained to conduct investigations into these kinds of matters."
A few hours before the letter came out, two Aggies, Shahar Lazar and Kent Olewiler, announced on social media that they were leaving the team.
Neither had played this season. This was shaping up as a redshirt year for Lazar, a freshman who came to Las Cruces from Israel. Olewiler also took a roundabout path to Las Cruces; he was a preferred walk-on who was not listed on the Aggies official roster.
Lazar said he was leaving because, "I don't think the program that I originally committed to aligns with my beliefs and core values.''
Olewiler said simply, "my recruitment is 100% open.''
The suspension of the program Friday came three months after NMSU forward Mike Peake shot and killed a University of New Mexico student in what police called self-defense. Both the school and the Albuquerque district attorney have launched separate investigations after coaches and staffers were found to be in possession of multiple pieces of potential evidence in the shooting, including the gun, after the incident.
Head coach Greg Heiar instructed his team to leave town after the shooting and return to campus, even though local police had asked to speak with three NMSU players who were with Peake, who was wounded. On Friday, the school said the latest allegations are not tied to the Peake incident.
The WAC, in a statement, said the league is "monitoring" the NMSU situation.
New Mexico State is 9-15 and 2-10 in WAC play.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.