AUX Softball cancellations highlight player-led decision making

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023
Savanna Collins
Jul 05, 2023

There have been plenty of unpredictable finales to Athletes Unlimited seasons like walk-off grand slams and last-minute shuffling to the top of the leaderboard. None have been entirely as unanticipated as the conclusion to the 2023 AUX Softball season.

The season’s final two games scheduled for June 27 were forced to be canceled due to hazardous air quality blowing from northerly winds of the Canadian Wildfires.

Early Tuesday morning, weather apps indicated the worsening air quality in Rosemont, Ill. AU leadership began monitoring the air quality and contacting local resources at the O’Hare Airport and Chicago Cubs.

The Softball Player Executive Committee (PEC) was immediately notified and brought into conversations about what the options were for the league.

By midday, the World Air Quality Index reported Chicago had the worst air quality in the world. That group marked Chicago’s air “unhealthy” and in the red zone. Chicagoans were advised to wear masks to protect from air pollution, run air purifiers, and close windows.

Rosemont is approximately 13 miles outside of the city and reached “purple” air quality in the 201 to 300 range on the AQI by midday.

The U.S. Air Quality Index is the Environmental Protection Agency’s index for reporting air quality. The AQI runs from zero to 500; the higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and health concerns. Values less than 50 represent good air quality while anything over 300 is regarded as hazardous. AQI readings varied by site but Rosemont was consistently above 200 on Tuesday afternoon.

The PEC collectively determined a threshold they were willing to compete in and set the benchmark of less the 200 in order to play games 17 and 18 of the season.

The first game was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. CT. The Committee decided to delay it to 6 p.m. CT because of predictions that the northerly winds would potentially shift as the day wore on, reducing the pollutions level.

As six o’clock approached, the PEC explored other options to ensure player safety was prioritized and that the most equitable outcome for all athletes was reached. They considered moving the games to Wednesday but there was no guarantee that air quality would improve within 24 hours.

Earlier that morning, the PEC decided that if the final two games had to be canceled, Game 16 would be removed from players’ stats and points. Within the AUX format, each team plays a doubleheader and Team Leach was the home team in both games set to play on Tuesday. That meant Team Garcia and Team Warren had played one more game than Team Leach, creating an imbalance of point-earning opportunities.

Ultimately, as the revised start time drew near, Rosemont was still above 200 AQI and regarded as very unhealthy air quality with “the risk of effects increased for everyone.”

The PEC decided to cancel both games, remove Game 16 and finalize the leaderboard as it stood. They aimed their decision towards creating the most equitable outcome for the entire player group while prioritizing player safety – even in a situation that felt unfair.

“It was always clear that health was the number one priority first and foremost,” said AU Softball Director of SportCheri Kempf. “But they did think through all the ramifications of potentially canceling.

“They just knew that there was not gonna be a perfect answer, but they thought they got to the best one… They covered concerns broadly and diversely. It was a decision that really factored in the player-led organization and probably one of the  best examples of when you want them involved in a decision.”

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