BATON ROUGE, La. — During Saturday’s in-game interview with CBS Sports’ Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey referred to his league as a family.
“This conference often describes itself as a family,” Sankey said. “A family has points of tension.”
That tension would be better diffused in the future if Sankey stops playing the role of absentee father.
Sankey was very much present as LSU athletic director Joe Alleva and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley attempted, and failed, to work out an agreement to find a way to play their game last weekend. Instead of taking charge, Sankey was the parent who trusted his kids could work out their differences without having to firmly put his foot down and hurt someone’s feelings.
It didn’t work. And now the whole family is mad while the two primary antagonists remain at each other’s throats.
At this point there is no good solution. But fortunately for Sankey, every failure is an opportunity to make sure the same mistakes are never repeated. And he can demonstrate himself as a visionary leader with a few proactive moves.
First, he must recognize the reality: SEC football season coincides with the end of hurricane season. The southeastern part of the United States is going to take the brunt of hurricane damage, whether the storm hits in the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. That problem is not going away anytime soon, and many scientists believe that global warming will only make the impact of the storms worse.
So like anyone who lives in a hurricane zone, the SEC needs its own evacuation plan to be used when absolutely necessary.
As you may be aware, football is huge in the south. This means there are a boatload of stadiums. And on any given weekend many of them will be empty, whether they are NFL or college facilities.
For every week of every future SEC season the league should reserve an on-call neutral site capable of hosting a game. There are plenty in the SEC’s footprint that are out of hurricane range and would not provide an unfair advantage to either team. Depending on the week, it could be the homes of the NFL’s Jaguars, Bucs, Panthers, Falcons, Titans or Saints. It could be the now-vacant former home of the St. Louis Rams, as Missouri is now SEC Country. It could be Legion Field in Birmingham, right by the league office.
Wherever. Just find a way to play the games.
And don’t allow individual member institutions to dictate the terms. The call must be made by the league office. The absolute latest a decision should be made is 48 hours before a scheduled kickoff. If there’s any question that a hurricane will hit the host team’s site at that point, the backup plan should be put into effect.
“They have to play that football game,” said a rightfully concerned Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who could be hosed out of the SEC East title if Florida doesn’t play a full schedule. “I know the SEC will do the right thing.”
But can they?
“One thing we will hold very firm on is that we will have a home game on Nov. 19,” Alleva told the media Monday in a rare public speaking appearance. “And we’re going to have a home game Nov. 19.”
That date had been floated as the most feasible — at least from Florida’s perspective — for rescheduling the LSU game.
“We understand the importance of playing this game and we want to play this game,” Foley said in a school release. “We continue to work with the SEC and LSU to make that happen.”
The Gators host the FCS Presbyterian Blue Hose Nov. 19 while LSU plays South Alabama. But LSU does not want to give up a home game, its senior night and finish the year with three straight road contests.
So we are at an impasse that makes Dec. 3, the scheduled date of the SEC Championship Game, look like the only remaining feasible option (even though it appears to be off the table). But moving that game would be a monumental waste of effort if neither the Gators or Tigers are good enough to get there, which seems to be the most likely outcome.
The anger in the LSU fanbase this week, at least among the rational, mostly has to do with Florida’s stupefying lack of preparation for any contingency outside of playing at noon on Saturday in Gainesville. It’s simply impossible for most people in south Louisiana to comprehend that anyone could be caught that off-guard by a storm, which is how the whole “Florida’s ducking us!” conspiracy talk got started.
So, in the future Sankey has to take matters out of the hands of people so foolish that they think they can outsmart the weather. And, for that matter, also out of the hands of those whose offer to move such games into their own home stadiums does not ring of altruism.
It’s possible that the neutral-site backup plan might never have to be enacted. But just as every team has a third-string quarterback for a reason, the SEC needs something concrete in place to avoid a repeat of the soap opera that has broken out between Florida and LSU.
By creating that plan, Sankey would win back the respect that the past week has evaporated.