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Sports

FULL-COURT PRESS: NCAA turns its head and coughs

Brian Hoxsey
Brian Hoxsey

For those who follow college athletics, it is not a surprise when we hear of the NCAA making shocking rulings, looking the other way on issues or handing out "slap on the wrist" punishments to institutions that break the rules. It seems to happen on a weekly basis.
In the middle of last week, with wild fires raging in Northern California, many schools, including those in the Pac-12, began discussing plans based on the air quality in the region for upcoming games.
One game that seemed to gain the most attention was Washington State's visit to Cal last Friday, and on Wednesday, October 11, the California Department of Intercollegiate Athletics released a statement regarding the air quality for the contest scheduled for 7:30 p.m. 
"We are continuing to closely monitor the air quality in Berkeley ... and are in communication with the Pac-12, Washington State and air quality experts as we determine the best course of action," the statement read. "We are working through a unique situation, and the health and safety of our student-athletes, fans, coaches and all those who work home football games is of utmost concern. As of the time of this release, we do not anticipate any changes to our scheduled game with Washington State."
The fires in the northern Bay Area had already taken 31 lives and burned more than 160,000 acres. The smoke and ash had covered the Bay Area over the past days and became worse on Wednesday.
The NCAA's parameters for dangerous air state that schools should "consider removing sensitive athletes from outdoor practice or competition venues at an AQI (Air Quality Index) over 100. For a sustained Air Quality Index of 200 or over, competitions should be delayed or cancelled. As of late Thursday night, the AQI in Berkeley was 180.
"The thing I'd say that we've learned is these are day-by-day situations given the way the wind is blowing and how these fires progress and the impact on smoke," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott on Thursday morning. "One day can be vastly different. The schools are in touch with local authorities. They have policies and procedures in place. We are certainly consulting with them and looking at contingency planning if an event can't be played. But the highest priority will be on the health and well-being of student-athletes and fans."
That last sentence of the statement proved to be quite the opposite.
Around three hours before the scheduled kickoff, the Pac-12 issued a statement which in short said the game would go on as scheduled, despite the AQI reading of 167. A 150 to 200 is rated by the government as “unhealthy.” The Pac-12 also said "the conditions will continued to monitored through game time."
Well, the game was played. Cal "smoked" Washington State 37-3, this on a day officials at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said was the worst day by far for fine-particle pollution ever recorded in the Bay Area and a time when particle pollution exceeded a standard set by federal regulators. The issue relates to the presence of particles that measure up to 2.5 microns — 0.0001 inches — in diameter. These tiny particles can lodge in the lungs and cause short- and long-term health problems, ranging from coughing and asthma to increased risk of heart attack.
Nearly every statement made offered up concerns for the safety, health and well-being of everyone involved. 
Hogwash!
The members of the Pac-12 are also members of the NCAA. If the Pac-12 wasn't smart enough to cancel or postpone a game that was played in dangerous conditions, the NCAA should have stepped in.
But again — "cough" — the NCAA dropped the ball.

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