It’s a tad crass to even be discussing such things, what with millions of people being asked to evacuate their homes and others left behind staring down the barrel of a potentially devastating hurricane, but Tennessee coach Butch Jones is ultimately right about the Florida-LSU game that was scheduled for Saturday in Gainesville.
“They have to play that game,” Jones told 104.5 The Zone in Nashville.
He obviously didn’t mean this weekend – Jones spoke after the game was already scrapped with Hurricane Matthew screaming toward land – rather at some point before the end of the season. The reason is simple: It could have major implications on the SEC championship race if the Tigers, Gators and league officials don’t find a way to reschedule.
An official release from the conference Thursday said all parties would work to get that done “if possible.” But it is possible, and it absolutely must happen. Because you know what else is possible if Florida-LSU is scrapped altogether? The SEC’s nightmare scenario.
Say the Gators, having escaped a coin-flip game against the Tigers, finish 6-1 in league play. And say Jones’ Volunteers, who’ve already beaten Florida this fall, finish 6-2. (Back-to-back battles with SEC West contenders Texas A&M and Alabama make that a very real possibility.)
In that scenario, by league rule, the Gators go to Atlanta for the SEC title game. The conference office passed along the text of Bylaw 126.96.36.199 in response to SEC Country’s inquiry about their division-title scenarios if LSU-Florida wasn’t made up:
The team in each division with the highest percentage of wins during all regular season Conference competition will be declared division champion.
Jones and Tennessee would have every reason to roar if Florida dodged – even by natural disaster – one of its best remaining chances to take a second league loss, then won the East Division.
Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley said he declined an offer from LSU to play this game Sunday in Baton Rouge. It would be perfectly reasonable for Florida not to want a fifth league road game this season, but Foley said it was just logistically impossible on such short notice.
The more realistic solution, it seems, is Nov. 19. The Tigers are set to host South Alabama and the Gators are scheduled to play Presbyterian at home that day. Those non-conference opponents could be bought out for $500,000 (Presbyterian) and $1.5 million (South Alabama) and Florida-LSU played instead that day in Gainesville.
But the Tigers would also cough up the revenue of a lost home game, which is apparently a real sticking point.
ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported Thursday evening, per an anonymous source, that the Gators offered that scenario and LSU refused. Shame on them, if true. Tigers AD Joe Alleva said he’s “had no contact with anybody – the conference office, Florida or anybody else – about rescheduling this game yet.”
But then he made it clear he’s not optimistic about finding a new date.
“Is there any incentive to make up this game from an LSU perspective? I don’t know yet,” he said. In other words, what, see if the Tigers win a few more games first? “It would be very difficult to give up a home game to make up this game. I haven’t come to a decision on that yet, but it would be pretty damn tough to play on the 19th and then play A&M on Thursday (Nov. 24). Got to do what’s in the best interest of the team.”
What about the broader best interest of the league and the legitimacy of its division champions? The SEC needs to step in and wield whatever power it has over this decision and get it done. One side is willing.
“The University of Florida – and I’ve told this to the commissioner and I’ve told this to LSU – is 100 percent behind whatever scenario they can come up with that allows this game to be played,” Foley said. “If the 19th is one of those dates that allows it to work, the Gators will be there. This is not about not wanting to play the football game.”
Funny, since they have the most to gain by skipping it. LSU should want this game to be played. Were the Tigers to beat Alabama and A&M but finish 6-1 in league play, the Aggies or Tide at 7-1 would still go to Atlanta based on winning percentage. But maybe LSU truly can’t afford it, what with Les Miles owed a fortune for his unceremonious removal last week.
Clay Travis of Outkickthecoverage.com proposed an interesting alternative solution: extend the season a week, assuming either team involved is still in contention for a division title, and push back the SEC championship game to Dec. 10. A spokesman for the league cited a “tradition of not commenting on hypotheticals” and declined to say whether that would be feasible.
One solution to LSU-UF would be extending season one week — if playing game is necessary — & playing SEC title game on 12/10. Feasible?
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) October 6, 2016
It would be ridiculous, embarrassing even, if the two schools and conference office can’t find a way to play this game. Jones is right: They must. Any reasonable person would agree. But any decent person would also not lose sight of what is ultimately the most important thing unfolding in Florida this weekend.
“This is a catastrophically – potentially – event for the state,” Foley said. “End of the day, decisions like this need to be made based on things that really matter, and what matters is people’s safety, their well-being. Football is important, but it doesn’t take importance over those items right there.”