BATON ROUGE – In the end, which will be on Thursday afternoon at noon as far as the final decision on the time and place of the LSU-Florida football game (if there is one this weekend), it will be the decision of Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey.
Thank goodness, it will not be up to Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and/or Florida football coach Jim McElwain or someone else at Florida, which seems to be in the state of Montana as far as its knowledge of hurricanes – and in particular – hurricanes’ aftermath.
Someone at Florida authorized the release of a ridiculous statement Wednesday afternoon as Hurricane Matthew surged toward the northeastern Florida coast, which is only 75 miles from Gainesville – site of Saturday’s scheduled 11 a.m. game between LSU and Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on ESPN. No one bothered to put their name on this statement, which might be the smartest thing about it.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva may not take questions at press conferences, which by definition tend to follow a question-and-answer format even in the White House, but at least comments in school releases are attributed to him. Foley, in this case, didn’t even do that much.
“We are working closely with local, state and University officials as well as the SEC office to monitor the progress of Hurricane Matthew and its potential impact on campus and the safety of the fans,” the ghost statement began from the University Athletic Association. “As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the game is still scheduled to be played on Saturday at noon (11 a.m. central) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. A final decision on the start time of the game will be made by 1 p.m. on Thursday as we continue to monitor the storm.”
But here’s the kicker, and Sankey may not have appreciated this part.\
“The game will not be moved out of Gainesville,” it said.
"Hey, we got an indoor facility," joked McElwain, who is from Missoula, Montana. Hurricanes aren't that funny in these parts, buddy. But the way your team played against Vanderbilt last week was.
So, come hell or high water, literally, Foley and McElwain have drawn a line in the sand, or in this case possibly the big muddy, and those don’t last too long. Seven to nine inches of rain are expected during the afternoon in Gainesville Friday. A state of emergency has been declared. Possible record damage has been projected for other parts of the state. There also may be another storm in the area. The University of Florida will not be having classes Friday, but hey game on Saturday!
Gainesville will likely be fine, the but the problem is the police, firemen and emergency personnel required to facilitate a major college football game in a 89,548-seat stadium like Ben Hill Griffin. They need to be working elsewhere in the state in storm recovery mode. This was one of the chief reasons LSU allowed its season opening game in the 2005 season to be moved to Arizona State in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Also, the highways and roads north, south, east and west of Gainesville busy with hurricane relief vehicles and the like do not need to be clogged with fans going to the game. The main reason Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made the final decision to move the LSU-Appalachian State kickoff on August 30, 2008, from 4 p.m. to 10 a.m. was to facilitate evacuation traffic for Hurricane Gustav that hit below Houma on September 1.
Interestingly, one LSU athletic department official at the time – not Alleva, at least publicly - insisted LSU had the final decision on the game time. And LSU releases refused to even say in the days leading up to the game that there was a possibility of a game time change despite state officials saying it was indeed possible.
In the end, we found out who was in charge, and it wasn’t LSU. And the SEC did not have to overrule a member school, which it may do Thursday. The SEC office also made the call when the LSU-Tennessee game was moved from Saturday, September 24, 2005, to Monday, September 26 as Hurricane Rita approached and hit the Louisiana-Texas line on September 24. Some at LSU didn’t want that either, and interestingly, had its football team stay in a hotel instead of in its dorms that weekend when hotels were desperately needed by the public. Not to mention the Tennessee football team, which had to fly in, beat LSU and fly out on the same day because of the lack of rooms. Rarely does that travel plan happen for a major college team – not even in baseball.
The difference is those storms that impacted LSU above were still headed to the area before the game. This Saturday, true, the storm will already be gone, but sometimes the aftermath of the storm is where the trouble is, and the state of Florida shouldn’t have to be dealing with the state of football during a state of emergency.
Florida governor Rick Scott should have perhaps already acted as Jindal did.
Because sometimes major college athletic department officials at places like LSU, and in this case, Florida, get so self-absorbed living in their own little world of big power and money that they do not realize that there is a real world out there.
Foley and company need to go outside and look around, but be careful there is a storm coming, maybe two. And you shouldn’t be hosting a football game. The game should've been moved to LSU or somewhere in between.
Maybe the weather will be great, and there will be no aftermath issues. Sometimes hurricanes are all Weather Channel and no impact. Still, Florida is being extremely careless.
Interestingly, in addition to the ridiculously absolute statement that “the game will not be moved out of Gainesville,” Florida said it was leaning against moving the game to the night time because of the fear of power outages.
My, how duplicitous. That’s sort of like a meteorologist saying, “It’s not going to rain folks, but I'd roll my windows up, and be careful of the lightning.”
Foley will be retiring soon from Florida, and that’s a good thing. First he hires Ron Zook, then Will Muschamp and now he's letting Matthew come in as if it's nothing.
SEC TV GAMES: Auburn at Mississippi State, 11 a.m. SEC Network; LSU at No. 18 Florida, 11 a.m., ESPN (Hurricane Matthew aftermath permitting); No. 9 Tennessee at No. 7 Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m., CBS; Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 3 p.m., SEC Network; No. 1 Alabama at No. 17 Arkansas, 6 p.m., ESPN; Georgia at South Carolina, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network (Hurricane Matthew permitting).
GUILBEAU POLL: 1. Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC). 2. Texas A&M (5-0, 3-0). 3. Tennessee (5-0, 2-0). 4. Arkansas (4-1, 0-1), 5. Ole Miss (3-2, 1-1). 6. Auburn (3-2, 1-1). 7. LSU (3-2, 2-1). 8. Florida (4-1, 2-1) 9. Georgia (3-2, 1-2). 10. Mississippi State (2-2, 1-1). 11. Missouri (2-3, 0-2). 12. Kentucky (2-3, 1-2). 13. South Carolina (2-3, 1-3). 14. Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2).
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Four men near the goal line. Dobbs heaves it. They’re bunched up in the end zone. It’s caught! It is caught! Jauan Jennings! Jauan Jennings! … You know, I’m going to miss doing the SEC.”
---CBS play-by-play announcer Verne Lundquist after Georgia quarterback Joshua Dobbs’ 43-yard touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings for a 34-31 victory over Georgia on the last play of the game Saturday in Athens, Georgia. Lundquist is retiring after this season.