Fans are understandably upset by the postponement — and probable cancellation — of Saturday’s Florida-LSU game.
There are several factors at play, among them: a Category 4 hurricane, Joe Alleva and Jeremy Foley’s apparent miscommunication, and common sense. Weather concerns have forced more than 3 million residents of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina out of their homes. Football is a huge social and economic priority, but Hurricane Matthew’s path means football is not the primary focus in these pigskin-crazy areas.
Yet, in Columbia, S.C., the game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and Georgia Bulldogs has been rescheduled for a Sunday afternoon kickoff.
Besides the fact that playing this game was probably the wrong decision, it put a spotlight on Florida’s refusal to make a similar move. Many have asked: “Why didn’t Florida reschedule the game for Sunday?” (The skies are expected to be much clearer, after all).
SEC Country reached out to an expert on the subject: Jay Logan, the associate athletic director for event and facility management at Mississippi State University.
Why not Sunday?
For one, Logan explained, it takes hundreds of on-site staff — ticket takers, bag checkers, ushers, parking attendants, concessions workers, etc. — to create a safe, functioning environment. A storm as large as Hurricane Matthew not only interrupts potential travel, but creates a domino effect that’s impossible to plan for.
“Just because the weather’s good (on game day) does not mean that everything is good elsewhere,” Logan said. “People need hotels. Food and water. There may be people still without power. There may be people who need some basic necessities because they’ve been relocated from wherever they are. And people may be able to move back into their homes and have no issue, but there are a lot of people who may not be, and some of the people working the games may be having to take care of those people.”
One subset that would need to prioritize public needs over the needs of the football team: Law enforcement and emergency responders.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who previously said she could not envision the USC-UGA game being played in Columbia, told the Gamecocks that state troopers would not be available during Sunday’s game.
Those are people you can’t simply replace on short notice.
“You would not feel comfortable just putting somebody in a position — if that person was not trained, not qualified to do that job — just to be able to have a game,” Logan said. “So you would not substitute a law-enforcement person who’s scheduled to work team security with someone else because they’re not trained to recognize threats or concerns or handle problems.”
Beyond terror threats or other big-picture problems, the university needs qualified officers to handle micro-security issues — ex. a fan fistfight — quickly and effectively.
As the weekend goes on, the consequences of the storm will become clearer. If Hurricane Matthew does not do serious damage to the state of Florida, hindsight will prove itself to be 20/20 once again (“The Gators should’ve played!”).
But Logan stressed that a decision to reschedule must take place far in advance.
“The No. 1 obligation is the teams’ safety, the players’ safety, the coaches being able to travel and have facilities to stay in,” he said. “You’ve gotta look at it far enough out: Can hotels accommodate fans coming in, as well as residents being relocated? You have people that are dislocated by a storm that may be moving into hotels, may be consuming things that teams would use, and people’s safety — their well-being, being dislocated by a storm — would take priority over these teams coming in and using rooms to play a game.”
What he’s saying is: Instead of planning for the best, universities have a responsibility to plan for the worst. Hence: No move to Sunday for the Gators.
“They’re making sure to do everything they can to not only protect their interest as a community, but also the people involved in it,” Logan said. “I think it’s a tough decision, but I’m sure they looked at every angle like that, and I’m not surprised. To do the right thing the right way is important, always.”