PROVO — With wildfires raging out of control throughout southern California, the Mountain West Conference decided Tuesday to postpone Saturday's game between BYU and San Diego State.
The Cougars and Aztecs will instead play on Dec. 1 — a week after BYU's rivalry showdown against Utah. Kickoff time and telecast details for the BYU-SDSU contest will be announced later.
With no game on Saturday, the Cougars are essentially treating the rest of the week like a bye, and they have already begun preparations for their next game on Nov. 3 at home against Colorado State.
"There is a far greater priority than sporting events in the San Diego area at this time," MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said of the decision. "The focus should be on emergency response and resources and getting the community back on its feet. Our thoughts are with our colleagues at San Diego State University, as well as everyone who has been affected by this disaster."
The conference's decision to postpone the game was based on a number of factors, including the declaration of a federal and state emergency for southern California; poor air quality as a result of the smoke; transportation considerations; Qualcomm Stadium availability; displacement of evacuees; fans' safety; and competitive equity.
"As many have seen, this has affected all of San Diego," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. "The school has been closed the past two days and will be closed the rest of the week. The San Diego State team hasn't practiced this week, even looked at going north, but the whole state of California is basically a disaster area. They made a good-faith effort to see if they could continue to play down there.
"We are in agreement with San Diego State to postpone this game," Holmoe continued. "As of yesterday, 50 members of their athletic department staff were out of their homes and coaches were living in their offices. Is it great for us? No. Nobody wants to miss a game in their season, but situations being what they are, we are in agreement."
BYU practiced Monday with work centered on San Diego State. When the team broke practice in a final huddle around the coaches Tuesday, they chanted, "Beat Colorado State."
"The players are picking up the Colorado State DVDs in the locker room as we speak," coach Bronco Mendenhall said after Tuesday's practice. "We will have a Colorado State Monday practice on Wednesday and simply shift gears and treat it like a bye week and see if there are any service opportunities that would be helpful. From a football perspective, which is secondary to what is happening in San Diego, we'll treat this like a bye week and practice Monday through Thursday. We might let the younger players scrimmage or something like that and have the weekend off."
BYU linebacker Markell Staffieri hails from the San Diego area. His parents left their home, east of Rancho Sante Fe, Monday morning under a mandatory evacuation order. They are staying in San Clemente at the home of Markell's oldest brother.
"I went through this during the summer at my sister's house with that fire down there in Manti," Staffieri said. "You do your best, you play the waiting game and say your prayers. My father called me and said the winds were dying down and that allowed crews to get in there and fight the fire. At first he had a report our house was lost in the fire. He got a second report that there were homes burned down in the area but not necessarily ours. Now, we're just waiting. My brother tried to get in there today but was stopped by the road blocks."
San Diego State coach Chuck Long was pushing for a postponement of Saturday's game, citing the severity of the natural disaster and the inability to hold practices. He canceled practice on Tuesday.
"It's been a tough situation in San Diego," Long said. "We're not even talking football right now. We're in a disaster zone."
"If I was in Coach Long's shoes and I'd been moved out of my house and many of my staff members were out of their houses and students weren't in school and their families were being located, it would be silly on his behalf to take a stand that he needed to play a game when so much is going on," Mendenhall said. "I completely understand and support it."
Holmoe said that during the process of making a decision, other options were discussed, but postponement made the most sense.
"This was (San Diego State's) home game. Bottom line is San Diego State cannot practice," Holmoe said. "The decision was made by conference commissioner Craig Thompson after discussions with San Diego State and BYU. We support the decision and wish the best for people in San Diego who are suffering through this disaster. They tried everything they could to play this game and even looked at other places. But with half their athletic department staff out of the office and most of the coaches living out of their offices with their families, no students in class and no football practice, this made sense to move the game to Dec. 1."
The location where the game was scheduled to be played, Qualcomm Stadium, is now the makeshift home of thousands of evacuees.
"Some are sleeping in tents or open-air cots and the elderly are staying in the luxury boxes," Thompson said.
Long encouraged his players to assist those in the community affected by the fires. On Monday, 70 San Diego State athletes descended upon Qualcomm Stadium to hand out blankets, food and other supplies to evacuees.
"It was really a good thing to help people out," Long said. "I want our athletes to go out and volunteer as much as they can."
Long said all of his players are accounted for, though many of the coaches and families of players have been forced to evacuate their homes. Coaches and their families are spending their days together at the football office, Long said, then going to area hotels at night.
BYU (5-2, 30) remaining schedule
Nov. 3 ... Colorado St. ... Noon (MTN)
Nov. 8 ... TCU ... 7 p.m. (VS)
Nov. 17 ... at Wyomi ng ... Noon (MTN)
Nov. 24 ... Utah ... Noon (CSTV/MTN)
Dec. 1 ... at San Diego St. ... TBA
All times Mountain