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Schools make contingency plans while hoping smoky skies abate by Saturday

Smoke from wildfires is forcing colleges and high schools to make contingency plans for outdoor sports. (Bettina Hansen / AP)
Smoke from wildfires is forcing colleges and high schools to make contingency plans for outdoor sports. (Bettina Hansen / AP)

Will college football in the Inland Northwest be saved from smoky skies this weekend?

The answer is blowing in the wind.

Fans, coaches, players and administrators are hoping for the best but preparing for anything, as Washington State, Eastern Washington and Whitworth all have home games scheduled for Saturday.

“We’ve been approached by numerous schools, talking about the ‘what ifs’ ” said Idaho athletic director Rob Spear, whose school owns the only indoor football stadium in the region.

“They’re all trying to do their due diligence,” Spear said, without naming the schools.

Spear said that the Kibbie Dome is booked for a high school game Thursday night, two more on Friday and another on Saturday following the Vandals’ 4 p.m. kickoff against UNLV.

Spear added that it probably wouldn’t be feasible to play another college game earlier on Saturday, and that discussions with other universities have revolved around the possibility of playing on Sunday.

Whitworth is set to play Whittier at 11 a.m., Eastern is scheduled to host North Dakota State at 1:05 p.m. Saturday in Cheney, and WSU hosts Boise State at 7:30.

On Wednesday, players at all three schools practiced indoors for the second day in a row.

The contingency plans are just that. Air quality is expected to return to acceptable levels by Friday.

“We continue to monitor the smoke situation literally hourly, but unless we announce otherwise our games this weekend are as planned!” Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves Tweeted Wednesday.

The air quality index in Spokane on Wednesday ranged between 230 and 250, which is considered hazardous. For the second straight day, high school sports teams postponed all interscholastic events and held all practices indoors.

The Greater Spokane League has an agreement that no outdoor activities will take place if the air quality index is more than 150.

Colleges don’t have a fixed threshold. However, Chaves said that “there’s a lot of optimism” that the smoke will abate by the weekend.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, smoky conditions will persist through at least Thursday night.

That forecast caused Gonzaga to move a men’s soccer game – originally scheduled for Thursday night in Spokane – to Seattle at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Meanwhile, Central Washington has moved all of its athletic contests from Ellensburg to the Puget Sound area.

The NOAA predicts that smoke-clearing winds will gain strength throughout Friday. Pullman has a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms that night.

Staff writer Theo Lawson contributed to this story.

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