The wildfires that have ravaged eastern Washington during this abnormally hot and dry summer have been a thorn in Bill Moos' side. The fires in early June threatened the ranch near Spokane owned by the Washington State athletic director, and he recently took his family to barn dance that may as well have been held in one of his meat smokers.
And now, the fires are threatening his football team's home opener against the Portland State Vikings. The air quality in Pullman is a real concern, and the Cougars have already moved one practice indoors because the Air Quality Index (AQI) was above 150—any number higher is considered unhealthy.
With fans to consider, the Cougars likely have to hold themselves to an even stricter standard because an AQI above 100 is considered unhealthy for children and the elderly, as well as people with asthma, lung disease or other vulnerabilities.
"We're watching it really close," Moos said. "Of course we are concerned about the health and safety of our student athletes and our fans, as well as coaches and staff. I'm hoping we will get some relief with some rain. We're testing it every day."
With that in mind, Moos says that WSU is exploring options to relocate or reschedule the game. Sources indicate that the Cougars have reached out to the University of Idaho about potentially holding the game in the Kibbie Dome, likely a worse-case scenario given that particular venue holds 16,000 seats—fewer than the Cougars have probably sold for the home opener (ticket information will be available early next week).
"That could be an option," Moos said. "There haven't been any real, formal talks in regards to we are going to do that or not. But I think it's important that we explore options. My staff, though, has been focusing on a normal game day procedure in Martin."
In addition to returning tickets to fans, the Cougars would also face the logistical nightmare of dealing with already disgruntled fans who made travel arrangements or booked hotel rooms. I, for one, would not envy whoever had to figure out the new parking provisions for those fans who could attend the game, to say nothing of dealing with boosters that paid big money for suites to which they would not have access.
Of course, other venues exist.
"The Kibbie Dome would not be the only option in my mind, there are other options where maybe we could go," Moos said. "We want to play the game. Another option is, can we reschedule it? That's happened before when you look back September 11th, and those things, people had to get creative with their schedules.
So, it may be easier to reschedule the game, if it comes to that. It won't be easy, the Cougars and Vikings don't have any open dates that align, but the teams could potentially reschedule for after the Apple Cup.
It may be easier than usual to reschedule because the Vikings are likely to bus to the game. What's certain is that both teams want to play. The Cougars could use what should almost certainly be a win as they try to return to a bowl game, and the PSU program really needs the $525,000 paycheck from the game.
The good news is that none of this may matter. The AQI is Pullman right now is 95, the lowest it has been in in some time by a good margin. The Cougars are planning to practice outdoors this afternoon and if the Palouse can just get some wind or a little rain, the Cougars should have no problem opening their season as scheduled.