The magic number for the Nevada football team this week is 200.
That's the mark the air quality index must be below for the Wolf Pack to host its home opener Saturday night against Idaho State at Mackay Stadium. While Nevada searched for contingency plans in case the air quality in Reno is too high to play iuts home game, it came up empty, meaning an AQI above 200 would mean a cancelation of the Wolf Pack's game against the Bengals, Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth told Nevada Sports Net on Tuesday.
While poor air quality wreaked havoc on Nevada's practice schedule in August, twice forcing the team to relocate to Stanford, the air quality this week has been improved, although still not great. The Wolf Pack has held its regular practices Monday and Tuesday on campus and is planning on a regular Wednesday session as well. Saturday's early forecast calls for an AQI around 139 with that number forecasted at 152 on Friday and 140 on Sunday.
If Nevada is forced to cancel Saturday's game, the plan is to schedule a game on its Sept. 25 bye, although Idaho State is scheduled to play Sac State that day and would be unavailable to play Nevada. Idaho, an FCS team the Wolf Pack is scheduled to host in 2023, has a bye that week and could be an option.
Assuming the game is played as scheduled with Saturday's 7:30 p.m. kickoff, the Wolf Pack will not require fans to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entrance. Masks also won't be required. The Wolf Pack is following the standards set by the state of Nevada and Washoe County Health District for large outside gatherings.
"It's an outdoor event, so we encourage people to wear masks if that's what they want to do," Knuth said. "Same with vaccinations and negative tests and all that kind of stuff. It's an outdoor event, and we're following the overarching state guidance and also Washoe County Health District guidance."
Nevada is planning on a crowd of around 20,000 fans for its home opener, its first home game at full capacity since the end of the 2019 season. The Wolf Pack's home opener that season drew 20,144 fans in a 34-31 win over Purdue. The last home opener against an FCS school came in 2018, a 72-19 win over FCS school Portland State before 17,525 fans. The average home-opening crowd under fifth-year coach Jay Norvell is 18,762 fans, although this year's crowds could be larger with the Wolf Pack coming off a season-opening win at Cal and bosting NFL talent on offense.
"I always think there's two things that fans want, and it doesn't matter anywhere in the country," Knuth said. "Everywhere I've ever been, there's two things. One is fans love a high-octane offense. I was talking to someone recently and they said, 'Defense wins championships.' And I said, 'Well, offense sells tickets.' That's sort of a truism in sports. People love a home run, right? They love a lot of home runs in baseball and in football, it's like you love to go to a game when there's going to be a lot of offense and the team's throwing the ball around, throwing it deep and there's a lot of fun stuff happening. We've got that. We've got an overabundance of incredible offense and a fun team to watch.
"And the second thing is fans love to go to games when you're going to win. It's fun to go and cheer for the Pack when you score a lot of touchdowns and you're going to win. Well, knock on wood, we're going to have a really good game this week, and we're going to throw it around, it's going to be a fun game to watch and I hope that we're going to win. Can't promise that, of course, but I have a pretty good feeling. But these are the things that fans want, the things that our community wants."
Nevada launched a series of initiatives this season to make the game-day atmosphere more enjoyable, including a new tailgating experience outside the stadium and relocating the student section inside the gates.
"There's two big things we're doing," Knuth said. "The first is the tailgating experience. There's a lot of people that come to games and they bring their own tailgate environment. They bring their own grills and music and TVs. And they really do a great job. And then there are a lot of folks that come to the game and don't have all that stuff. But they want somewhere to go and they want something to do and a place to get some food or drinks or hang out with other Wolf Pack fans. And we're creating that now. We're creating a sort of a tailgate village. There'll be a beer garden, there'll be music, I think we have a DJ. There's going to be all kinds of entertainment stuff, but it's going to be a place where people can come and congregate pregame and have some food and get a drink and and see other Wolf Pack fans and get ready for the game.
"And inside the stadium, we took a big chance. This year we're moving the student section, which will open up a door for really cool things. We're moving the student section out of the traditional north end zone, and it's actually not traditional because the students used to be in the south end zone. So we're moving back to the south end zone. We're moving the band to the east side behind the visiting team. And that opens up the north end zone. We're doing a really cool thing this year. We're giving that section away each week to a different community charity, to different community organizations that do good things for all of us. So this first home game is Sept. 11th, and it just works out perfectly for us. We're going to honor all of military and first responders. So I've been reaching out to and talking to the chiefs of police, the chiefs of fire, the Washoe County sheriff, military and inviting them to come to the game to be our guests and bring their families and just have a fun day with the Wolf Pack with no strings attached. Nothing they have to do, but just come cheer for the Pack and have fun."
Knuth said the second home game will be dedicated to hospital workers and a future home game will include members of the Washoe County School District.
"We'll do some fun things with our community, so it's pretty cool," Knuth said. "We have a lot of fun things ahead this year."