GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s involvement in the decision to indefinitely postpone — and potentially cancel — the No. 18-ranked Gators’ game with LSU this Saturday as a response to Hurricane Matthew continues to come under scrutiny.
On Friday, as the storm wreaked havoc on the northeastern part of the state while going light on Gainesville, several notable personalities in college football took their turn second-guessing the decision and how it came to be.
“I’m disappointed that it was not scheduled somewhere this weekend,” SEC Network broadcaster Brent Musburger said. “Now I certainly understand why Florida did not want to go to LSU. South Carolina tried that a year ago and how did that work out? However, it seems to me that a neutral site could have been negotiated with these two teams, both of them with great resources. (They) had the ability to take the game into the Georgia Dome. I know Atlanta’s on the road, the Falcons are out in Denver this week. Mobile, Birmingham, a neutral site. …
“We all get public safety — we got that. But, however, life goes on. You don’t just start canceling ballgames because you’ve got a terrible storm like this unfolding. People need the escape. That’s why we do these fun and games, and I think that Florida and LSU should have found a place where they would meet on neutral ground because this game is so significant in the races in both the East and West. That certainly is one of the reasons, and the other one is the fans of these two schools deserve to have a game this week. That’s simply my opinion.”
Musburger was speaking on “The Paul Finebaum Show” Friday afternoon and the host was on the same page.
“I don’t think many disagree,” Finebaum said. “We’ll let someone else figure out what went wrong, but it doesn’t matter — it’s whether they can make it right.”
Florida was not the only school in the state to have a home game postponed this weekend.
Central Florida announced on Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with Tulane to postpone their game scheduled for Friday to Nov. 5 when both teams had an open date on the schedule. Meanwhile, Florida Atlantic postponed its game with Charlotte from Saturday to Sunday in Boca Raton, Fla.
In his comments after the announcement Thursday, Foley fairly emphasized that there were more important issues in the state than a football game. Many of Florida’s players come from areas that were expected to be heavily impacted by the storm, let alone whatever would unfold in Gainesville.
There were reportedly four deaths and more than 1 million Florida residents without power as the storm swept through Friday.
As for the logistics of the Gators-Tigers showdown, though, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has been outspoken in stating that he offered a range of possible solutions and was willing to do whatever it took to get the game played.
Foley, meanwhile, claimed there was no viable alternative, while admitting he didn’t consider any neutral site options because he said it would have been too difficult to put together a travel plan for a group of 150 or so people and arrange for an equipment truck to travel on such short notice.
As for pushing the game back, he claimed it would not be possible to secure the necessary security personnel and first responders needed to manage an event the size of an SEC football game.
Not all observers were as understanding of those issues as they levied opinions Friday.
ESPN’s Matt Barrie, who anchors SportsCenter and used to host College GameDay on ESPN Radio, also joined the program and said Florida comes out looking bad in the decision to indefinitely postpone the game.
Especially when Florida State and Miami are moving forward with their game in Miami Gardens, Fla., Saturday night with the teams announcing they’ll donate funds to hurricane relief efforts.
– FSU-Miami to be played at 8 pm on ABC
– Schools to donate to funds to Hurricane Relief https://t.co/mGT0e6jwSS
— Miami Hurricanes (@MiamiHurricanes) October 7, 2016
The brunt of Hurricane Matthew, which was adjusted from a Category 4 to a Category 3 and eventually a Category 2 on Friday, mostly missed Miami and South Florida.
South Carolina had also pushed its home game with Georgia back to Sunday to work around the storm.
As it turned out, Gainesville got off rather easy Friday as well considering the earlier forecast and fears.
But Hurricane Matthew has been unpredictable from the start. Foley had said that when he left the office Wednesday, he did so thinking the game would be played, only to have that opinion change swiftly Thursday.
The way the storm played out Friday now made it easier for those second-guessing the decision to postpone the game and Florida’s role in that decision.
And several had pointed opinions on the matter.
“I don’t want to use the term ‘dodging’ LSU, but it seems to me there would have been a way to get this game in at some point, be it Saturday night, Sunday or Monday,” Barrie said on Finebaum’s show. “I don’t question for a second that Joe Alleva and the LSU administration tried to do whatever they could to get this game in. And the reason I think it falls on Florida, and mind you none of us are in these discussions with school administrators, but again, there’s examples right in their own state of how football is going to be handled throughout the weekend. …
“It looks like Florida dodged them and it looks like Florida wanted no piece of them. That’s how it’s going to look. Whether that’s the truth or not, fine, only they know, but if you knowingly postpone a game and then knowingly can’t find a time to reschedule it and then you become the (beneficiary) of that, then it doesn’t look good from Florida’s standpoint, whether it’s (what) they intended to do.”
Much has been made of the fact that if Florida were to win out and finish 6-1 in the SEC and Tennessee were to finish 6-2, the Gators would win the East despite losing to the Vols and avoiding a toss-up game with LSU.
“Right now LSU is probably getting a little more sympathy in their predicament than Florida is, but yesterday you do have to agree that Jeremy Foley in not wanting to put his team and coaches and personnel on a plane was a legitimate and rational (response),” Finebaum said. “It’s going to be more difficult tomorrow when the weather’s nice and people are asking questions, but first of all the decision should not have been made on Thursday. The decision should have been made by Tuesday or Wednesday. That was the issue. It was not made in time.”
Former Florida quarterback and SEC Network analyst Tim Tebow and fellow SEC Network analyst Booger McFarland chimed in as well during the show, echoing the comments of Tennessee coach Butch Jones that the game needs to be made up this season.
“I think it has to be played. I think they’ve got to find a way to play this game somehow, someway,” Tebow said. “I get why they’re not doing it on Saturday. I think that’s the right move. I think that’s the right decision because there’s a lot of people, including my family, that has had power in an out. So it’s the right thing to postpone it so everybody can be focused on staying safe and staying healthy. But there’s a lot at stake with this game and I think it needs to be played.”
McFarland was a little more critical in his comments.
“I think the game needs to be played. I think yesterday made the conference look bad on all angles, and it’s funny to me how in the media right now there’s only one side that’s really upset. And usually that kind of tells you something,” he said. “Right now the LSU people are very, very upset. Both the fans, I think the administration. Florida is upset, but you really don’t hear the tone and tenor coming from the Gators that you do from the Tigers so overall that tells me something also. But it’s just a bad day for the conference when one of the bigger games for the conference every year is, to me, it looks like it’s not going to be played.”
It is certainly looking that way at this point.
Asked his opinion of what went wrong, McFarland thought the league and the teams could have held out hope for playing the game Sunday after seeing how the weather situation unfolded.
Especially looking at it in hindsight Friday.
“I understand you have to air on the side of caution, I get that, but I think most smart people would have said, ‘You know what, let’s just push the game back to Sunday and then wait and see,'” he said. “… Because I think the worst thing that’s going to happen tomorrow is when you wake up the sun will be out in Gainesville tomorrow and you’ll see some police officer at the local Starbucks getting a latte. And we’re all going to be like, ‘See, you could have played!'”
Added Finebaum: “You had to heed the warnings, but you could have had a contingency plan.”