One of the most interesting aspects for an FCS team traveling to an FBS opponent is the chance to play on a grander stage.
Road games in recent years have put the Cal Poly football team in venues with crowds that would fill 11,075-seat Alex G. Spanos Stadium three or four times over.
Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium is no different in that respect, sporting a seating capacity of 29,181.
But the facility stands out in another way: Altitude.
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With an elevation of 7,220 feet above sea level, the Cowboys’ stadium ranks as the highest Division I football stadium in the country, besting Mountain West Conference mate Air Force’s Falcon Stadium for tops at the FBS level by nearly 600 feet.
How will that affect Cal Poly?
Even Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen isn’t completely sure, but he does know there is a decompression period of sorts for athletes who find themselves that high up for the first time.
“Seventy-two hundred feet is a significant change in air quality,” Christensen said. “It takes six weeks to get our kids into playing condition when they come here as freshmen. We can’t just throw them in with the rest of the team, particularly if a kid has sickle cell trait or anything like that.”
The elevation is a concern for the Mustangs, which essentially train at the beach by comparison.
But it won’t be a focal point. Now a member of the Big Sky Conference, Cal Poly will have regular trips to Northern Arizona, whose Walkup Skydome sits at 6,980 feet, to get used to.
The Mustangs have also played at former Great West Conference rival Southern Utah twice since 2007. Cedar City, Utah, is 5,800 feet up.Cal Poly arrived in Wyoming and held a practice there on Thursday. Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh is counting on that to be enough time to become acclimated.
“I’ve coached at Northern Arizona, and I’ve coached at some other high places,” Walsh said, “and we just said, ‘Go play, will you?’ Yeah, it is going to burn when you first go out. The first five plays, you’re going to start thinking you’re fatigued, but if you play seven or eight plays and play through it, then it’s going to feel pretty normal.
“We’re going to let our guys play and be smart about it. My emphasis is going to be to play through it.”