Utah, BYU football teams face a different camp problem: the world’s worst air quality

Smoke from California wildfires was bad enough it would have forced the cancellation of college football games, athletic director says.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The California and Oregon fires are carried into the state by the jet stream as smoke fills the Salt Lake Valley obscuring the sky on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021.

The University of Utah football team did not have a football game scheduled at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday, but if it did, it would not get played thanks to the poor air quality in Salt Lake City.

So said Utes athletic director Mark Harlan on Friday afternoon.

During an interview on ESPN 700 radio, Harlan said the school plans to have Rice-Eccles Stadium at its new full capacity of 51,444 this season. Then he shifted his focus to the smoke from West Coast wildfires that had thickened over Utah and reduced visibility.

“If we were to have a football game today, we wouldn’t be able to play because of air quality,” Harlan said.

Salt Lake City had the worst air of any major city in the world on Friday morning, according to IQAir.com.

According to NCAA and Pac-12 rules, if the air quality index (AQI) gets in the 150-200 range, schools cannot play, Harlan said. The AQI reading on campus at 10:30 a.m. on Friday morning was over 300, which, per Harlan, ended all outdoor practices on campus.

Per the NCAA, when the AQI gets to 300 or above, “outdoor activities should be moved indoors or canceled if indoor activity is not an option.”

To that end, Utah soccer practice was cut short on Friday morning in the face of deteriorating air quality, a university spokesperson said.

As of 4:15 p.m., the Salt Lake City AQI had dipped to 169 according to IQAir.com. For anything over 150, the NCAA says “outdoor activities should be shortened, and exertion should be minimized by decreasing the intensity of activity. Sensitive athletes should be moved indoors.”

Ute football practice, which was scheduled for the late afternoon, was moved inside to the Eccles Field House, which is adjacent to the normal outdoor practice field.

At BYU, the Cougars started their second day of fall camp around 10:20 a.m. on Friday morning, while there were still clear skies in Provo, but as soon as the smoke moved in, the team packed up and moved to its indoor practice facility, a BYU spokesperson said.

Provo didn’t see AQI numbers as high as those in Salt Lake City, but still reached levels that are unhealthy for all groups. BYU will continue to monitor the situation throughout the weekend and adjust practices accordingly.

— Salt Lake Tribune reporter Norma Gonzalez contributed to this story.