ALAMEDA, Calif. — As of now, the plan hasn’t changed.
The Raiders are still scheduled to play the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. Kickoff is still set for 1:25 p.m. It still will transpire at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The plan, however, is far from finalized.
Wildfires in Northern California continue to devastate the region, causing at least 29 deaths and destroying about 3,500 homes and businesses while hundreds of people are missing, authorities said Thursday afternoon. Air quality has been adversely affected as further result, hence the uncertainty over Oakland’s suitability to host the sporting event.
“We continue to monitor air quality conditions in the Bay Area and are in close communication with both the Raiders and Chargers, as well as local authorities,” said Michael Signora, the NFL’s vice president of football communications. “At this point, the game remains scheduled for Sunday in Oakland.”
Statement from Raiders re: Sunday's game versus Chargers. "At this point," still planned as scheduled. pic.twitter.com/I9BERgap7s
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 12, 2017
It is unclear the NFL’s backup plan should Oakland not be an option.
The game cannot be pushed to Monday, given the Raiders are scheduled to host the Kansas City Chiefs on a short week next Thursday. Likewise, the Raiders and Chargers do not share a bye week, so their matchup cannot be postponed to a later date like the NFL did in Week 1 when moving a meeting between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins to Week 11 following Hurricane Irma.
Because the date cannot be changed, that leaves the location.
Ideally, a decision will be made before the Chargers travel to Oakland on Saturday.
On the shortlist of West Coast stadiums, the San Francisco 49ers are away to face the Washington Redskins, making Levi’s Stadium available in Santa Clara. Air quality there generally has been better than in Oakland; however, there is no guarantee it’d be suitable, either.
Elsewhere, the Seattle Seahawks are on bye. The Los Angeles Rams are on the road. San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the city’s Qualcomm Stadium is available to the NFL, although it would be a surprise if the league arranged for the Chargers to return to a bitter market they vacated in January after 56 seasons.
The Cardinals play a home game, so Arizona is not an option this time. There has been no evidence that the NFL is considering Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas as a possibility.
There is precedent here for a wait-and-see approach. On Oct. 26, 2003, the day before a “Monday Night Fooball” game between the Chargers and Dolphins, the NFL moved the game from San Diego to Arizona because of the Cedar Fire. Refunds were provided to fans. Tickets in Arizona were free. Donations were collected toward San Diego’s relief efforts.
In response to problematic air quality, the Raiders have adjusted their practice schedule this week.
Their Wednesday afternoon session was shortened amid air conditions that the Environmental Protection Agency termed “Unhealthy.” Later on Wednesday, the team announced a revision to its Thursday practice, moving it from 1:45 p.m. to 11 a.m. The club announced a second revision Thursday morning: Practice was shortened to end at 12:30 p.m., an hour earlier than its initial listing.
Safety Reggie Nelson practiced Wednesday and Thursday while wearing an anti-pollutant face mask behind his helmet’s face mask. Running back Jalen Richard and wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Isaac Whitney wore a mask, too, on Thursday.
The team facility is located about 40 minutes south of the fires. The Coliseum is a few miles closer.
Ralph Borrmann works as a public information officer for Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which oversees the EPA’s air quality index readings for the region. He said “nobody can answer” today what the air quality conditions will be like on Sunday.
“We don’t know what the level of containment of fire will be or what the wind direction will be,” Borrmann said, “so we don’t have an answer for it. …. Things can change pretty quickly. It’s really hard to make a prediction that’s going to be 100 percent accurate. There are variable winds. Generally now, they’re blowing in a southernly direction from what’s burning. It’s filtering into the Bay Area from the north. In an hour, things can change.”