I’ve talked to people in Gainesville, Fla., and people in Baton Rouge, La., this week, and both sides are tired of talking about Hurricane-gate. Mercifully, the story finally reached its conclusion Thursday when Florida and LSU agreed to play their postponed game on Nov. 19 in Baton Rouge.
Here’s my take: LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva, Florida AD Jeremy Foley and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey all come out looking bad in this situation.
In case you weren’t paying attention, uncertainty due to Hurricane Matthew surrounded the Florida-LSU game scheduled for this past Saturday in Gainesville. Georgia had a similar situation with its game against South Carolina scheduled for the same day. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks agreed to play their contest a day later in Columbia, got it in Sunday without incident and in nice weather to boot and Georgia came home with a victory but a day less to prepare for this Saturday’s homecoming game against Vanderbilt. In fact, of the four teams affected by Hurricane Matthew, UGA was the most displaced initially.
Florida was dealing with the same storm, but was also hamstrung by even more uncertainty. At the time the decision was made to cancel/postpone the game on Thursday night, Hurricane Matthew was a Category 4 storm bearing down on the Southeast Florida coast and had actually taken a slight turn to west. Truthfully, they weren’t sure where it was going to go.
But this they knew: The entire coastal region had been ordered to evacuate. The University of Florida of canceled classes and Gainesville had been designated an evacuation destination. State and local policy and emergency said they could not provide security for a game if one was to be played Saturday or Sunday.
As Alleva pointed out over and over again, LSU offered to play the game on Sunday or Monday in Gainesville or at any time in Baton Rouge.
But it was there on Thursday where it got crossed up. Foley should have been more proactive and designated a Sunday or Monday game – with or without fans and/or security support – or they should have insisted on another day to monitor the storm. Had they waited 24 hours, I’m convinced they would have determined conditions would have been fine to play on Sunday.
Once the game was postponed – or canceled, depending on which side one believes – Alleva drew a line in the sand. He made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that LSU was not going to give up another one of its home games. His claim is that the flooding in Baton Rouge made the city far too dependent on the economic boost a home game provides.
So we got what we got: Which was both Florida and LSU canceled their Nov. 19 games with Presbyterian and South Alabama, respectively, to play each other on that date in Baton Rouge. The SEC’s insurance reimburse the schools’ buyout costs on those games ($1.5 million for LSU and $500,000 for Florida). Word is, Presbyterian and South Alabama are working on playing each other on that same date.
I’m not sure that’s necessarily a win-win for both schools. Florida, which is of course in the middle of the SEC East race, now has a road game against LSU in what could potentially be a meaningful contest as far as qualifying for the SEC championship game, depending on how Tennessee holds up these next few weeks. Never mind, that it also comes the week before playing rival FSU in Tallahassee.
Meanwhile, LSU now finishes the season against four consecutive Top 25 opponents in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M.
“I want to give credit to the University of Florida for making concessions to move this year’s game to Baton Rouge,” Sankey said.
But it was Sankey himself who should’ve shown more strength through this whole debacle. He is the commissioner, after all, and the second-year man had precedent to go by. In 2005, when Tennessee and LSU were grappling over what to do with their game that was being threatened by Hurricane Rita less than a month after being devastated by Hurricane Katrina, then-Commissioner Mike Slive stepped in and told both parties they’d have to play that game Monday in Baton Rouge. They did, and visiting Tennessee actually won 21-13 despite having to fly in and out the day of the game.
And Sankey had power on his side. There’s actually an SEC rule that has been on the books since 1991 that says for a team to qualify for the conference championship game, it must play eight conference games. For LSU and Florida to have not have made up this game would have effectively disqualified both teams for the SEC championship.
It could be argued that neither team would be in position to play for the championship this season anyway. But you never know about those things and, mathematically at least, a title is still in play for both teams.
At the end of it all, Florida is the one that comes out looking like the winner in all this. Not only did it make a concession to play the game on LSU’s home field this year, but it probably ended up with one of the most attractive home schedules in the nation next year. Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and FSU all come to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. That’s in addition to opening the season against Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Also, it emphatically ended the ridiculous LSU narrative that Florida simply didn’t want to play them. The Tigers would have been without tailback Leonard Fournette. They should have him back now, on their home field, no less.
“As I’ve said all along: We will play anyone, anywhere, anytime,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “I think I’ve made that pretty clear. The Gators never run from anyone or dodge anyone.”
Indeed, Florida could end up getting some motivation and momentum out of all this.
The good news is this will be the last time there will be any sort of debate over postponement and rescheduling issues due to hurricanes or other natural disasters. The league’s athletic directors – minus Foley, who will be officially retired at the end of the regular season — will meet the week after the SEC championship in Birmingham and hammer out legislation that will put in firm policy and procedures to follow.
Clearly that’s necessary because, left to their own devices, these guys looked either selfish or weak.