Fire, smoke jeopardize shot at BVC championship

By Efrain Valdez, Sports Editor

Under the floodlights and the haze of lingering smoke, the men’s soccer team was denied the opportunity to compete for a Bay Valley Conference championship Monday night at the Soccer Field.
The Comets (7-7-4 overall and 3-2-2 in the Bay Valley Conference), began conference play Sept. 28 in sluggish form with a 1-1-2 record, which left little opportunity for the team to make it into postseason play.
Now, at the end of a tumultuous conference season, the team found itself with a last-ditch opportunity to win the BVC.
Needing an inundation of positive results to even entertain the thought of competing for the championship, the Comets found themselves at the mercy of conference rivals and reigning BVC champion Napa Valley College (7-8-3 overall and 4-2-2 in the BVC).
In its last two matches, the Storm managed to beat conference leaders Merritt College (8-4-6 overall and 4-1-2 in the BVC) and Mendocino College (10-6-3 overall and 4-3-1 in the BVC) to set up the Comets for a chance to take the top spot in the conference with a win over Merritt on Monday.
However, about 20 minutes prior to kick off at the Soccer Field Monday, league officials called off the potential championship clincher due to the poor air quality due to the Camp Fire some 200 miles away in Paradise, California.
Originally, the game was scheduled to be played Friday, but it was pushed to Monday in hopes of avoiding the smoky air that has blanketed the area since late Thursday.
As of press time Tuesday, the BVC is left without an official conference champion because of the cancellations. This leaves the decision up to the regional playoffs seeding meeting on Tuesday morning to decide if the game should to be rescheduled and played.
That would allow the BVC to crown a definitive champion(s). However, Napa would leapfrog three teams to earn the unofficial championship if the game is not rescheduled. Napa would end up as conference champion because it holds the tiebreaker over Merritt.
Contra Costa College coach Nikki Ferguson, who is the coaches’ representative for the BVC at the seeding meetings, said Monday, “All games were supposed to be done by Saturday, but obviously with the fires, the games kept getting pushed back further and further. The seeding meeting is (Tuesday) and that’s when we set the brackets for the playoffs.”
Comet defender Raul Garcia said, “This is my last season playing. So, if we don’t get to play another game this season, it would be a bad memory that I would always carry with me.”
Friday’s cancellation came after college administrators consulted with the California Community College Athletic Trainers Association about the risks of playing in those conditions.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website, the air quality on Friday was better than the air quality Monday at game time.
For Friday, the Air Quality Index (AQI) was in the range of 101-150 signifying the general public is not at risk of the particles in the air.
On Monday, however, the AQI was much higher in the range of 151-200, which is considered unhealthy for everyone.
“We warmed up as we would for any game,” Garcia said. “About 20 minutes before kickoff, the refs called the game. If you’re going to let us warm up for that long you might as well let us play,”
Ferguson said it is frustrating because he thought the conditions on Friday were good enough to play.
“The reason I say it was good enough for us to play is because we had other programs playing in worse conditions that day,” he said.
Considering 24 of the 32 games were in action around the state on Friday brings into question why the game was canceled, he said. Especially when air quality prediction models last week showed that the air quality would continue to worsen over the coming week.
BVC Commissioner Shirley Baskin said Monday, “It’s a major tragedy with what’s going on with the fires and unfortunately the air quality was not cooperating with today’s game.”
She said that they (California Community College Athletic Association) take this seriously and want to protect the players if there are unsafe playing conditions.
The CCCAA bylaw 9.7.2 states that the host team’s athletic trainer must “note unsafe environment using real-time readings measured on site.”
Then the trainer must notify their athletic director of the unsafe environment conditions and work together to determine the appropriate action.
“If the officials determined that the playing conditions were not good, then it’s pretty clear that the game could not be played,” Baskin said.
The game’s cancellation could have huge implications for the number of BVC teams that get playoff spots. The scenario could also leave the BVC with just one automatic playoff berth.
“It would be unfair if we don’t play this game. We really want it,” Garcia said.
“It’s not only huge for us, it is huge for our conference,” Ferguson said. “There’s potential for us (BVC) to get three or four bids because of the language in the championship handbook. It says every conference champion gets an automatic bid.”
The Comets are now at the mercy of whatever is decided at the seeding meeting on Tuesday. CCC is looking to make the state playoffs after missing out last year following a defeat to Napa.
“I’m afraid (this year a) decision will be made off the field rather than on the field,” Ferguson said.