LSU will not be playing football tomorrow.
The Bayou Bengals’ game at Florida, which was supposed to kick off at 11 a.m. Central, was called off due to the threat of Hurricane Mathew, which is currently paralleling Florida’s east coast about 80 miles (130 kilometers) offshore. Gainesville is receiving heavy rain now and will continue to have rain the rest of the evening.
LSU offered to move the game to Baton Rouge, and play Saturday, Sunday or Monday. LSU went so far as to procure hotel rooms in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and offered to pay for all of Florida’s expenses, including the charter flight.
Florida flat out refused. The Gators also refused the idea of a neutral site, such as Birmingham, Nashville or even Atlanta. Florida was bound and determined to play the game in Gainesville, even though as early as Monday night, it appeared the city would receive some significant effects from Matthew.
Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, who is now in his last month in the position, dithered and farted around until it was too late to do anything but call off the game. I’m sure his football coach, Jim McElwain, told him to stall as long as he could. Florida currently has many players injured, including several defensive linemen and starting quarterback Luke Del Rio.
Foley and McElwain got their true wish: no game this Saturday. Even though LSU is now led by interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Gators were well aware facing the Bayou Bengals would be a difficult task fully healthy, even more so without the injured players, although the Bayou Bengals were going to be without All-American running back Leonard Fournette, who missed last week’s game vs. Missouri with an ankle injury.
Florida wants to play the game Nov. 19. The Gators and Bayou Bengals both have non-conference home games that day. LSU would have to pay South Alabama a $1.5 million buyout if cancels, and would lose over $3 million in ticket revenue, not to mention parking, concessions and gift shop sales. LSU has every right to want to honor the contract with the Jaguars. It is not at fault here.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey should have stepped in. He should have done something Tuesday, or at the latest, Wednesday by noon. He should have told Florida in no uncertain terms the game would be played in Baton Rouge Saturday, or in Gainesville Sunday or Monday. In the professional sports leagues, the commissioner has the power to change the site and/or date of the game if a natural disaster is imminent. It’s too bad the SEC presidents and athletic directors haven’t vested the same power in the commissioner.
On the other hand, Sankey hasn’t been in the job too long. He doesn’t carry the clout of his predecessors, Roy Kramer and Mike Slive, who were among the most powerful people in college sports during their tenures. Kramer nor Slive would have let this drag out. They would have forced Foley’s hand and gotten something done.
I don’t understand why it would be so hard to move the SEC championship game back one week to Dec. 10, then have the College Football Playoff selections made that night or early the next morning. Start the SEC title game at 11 a.m. Central (prior to Army-Navy), then make the CFP selections at 6 p.m. Not hard.
If anyone knows about moving games due to hurricanes, it’s LSU.
The Bayou Bengals postponed their 2005 season opener vs. North Texas to late October. The game was scheduled to be played Sept. 3, which turned into the Saturday following Katrina’s landfall.
The next week, LSU moved its scheduled home game with Arizona State to Tempe. LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center and Carl Maddox Fieldhouse were being used as emergency medical centers, and helicopters were landing on the infield at Bernie Moore Stadium, the track facility across North Stadium Drive from Tiger Stadium. It would have been very easy for LSU to cancel the game. Arizona State would have understood. But the new LSU coach that season, Les Miles, knew playing the game, even if it was in Tempe and kicked off after 9 p.m. Central, would be a unifying influence and a way for refugees to forget about their miserable situations, even if only for three and a half hours.
LSU’s new home opener vs. Tennessee had to be pushed back to a Monday night due to Hurricane Rita, which devastated southwest Louisiana and dropped heavy rain on the rest of the state. College Gameday was supposed to broadcast from Baton Rouge, but moved to Virginia Tech.
Last year, South Carolina moved its scheduled home game with LSU to Baton Rouge when flooding hit the Palmetto State hard. LSU rolled out the red carpet from the Gamecocks, and the Golden Band from Tigerland even played the Carolina fight song.
See, Florida? It’s not that hard. All of the blame for this situation belongs to one man: Jeremy Foley. Hopefully Scott Stricklin, Foley’s predecessor, won’t be so stubborn if this happens again.
LSU returns to the field Oct. 15 at home vs. Southern Mississippi. I hope the Bayou Bengals pour it on. I have never been a USM fan, thanks to Curley Hallman’s disastrous four-year tenure in Baton Rouge after he went 23-11 in three seasons in Hattiesburg (thank you, Brett Favre).