Image Credit: ESPNI
Hurricane Matthew is ready to slam into the state of Florida, which has forced the postponement of the game between the No. 18 Florida Gators and LSU Tigers originally scheduled for Saturday at noon in Gainesville.
Florida and the Southeastern Conference announced just before 4 p.m. that the game will be postponed indefinitely and efforts will be made to reschedule the game at some point later in 2016. LSU initially referred to the game as canceled but changed its terminology shortly after sending out its release.
“We had a very productive phone call today with a great spirit of cooperation between the universities’ presidents and athletics directors and it became clear that the University of Florida could neither host nor travel to a game this weekend considering the circumstances,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in a release. “The developments of the hurricane in the last 24 hours, the projected magnitude of its impact and the unknown aftermath of this storm have resulted in this decision to seek another date to play the LSU-Florida game. We have to be sensitive to the possible imminent disruption to the state of Florida and in particular the Gainesville and surrounding area.”
Playing the game later Saturday or on Sunday was apparently not considered safe enough. Florida seemingly declined to play the game outside of Gainesville — as it was previously announced that it would not be relocated this weekend — though LSU reportedly offered to host the contest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Travel for either team would have been exceedingly difficult.
“We have worked all week with local, state, campus and conference officials,” said Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley. “I know there will be a lot of opinions about how we came to this conclusion and when we came to the conclusion, but this is the right decision. I fully support the Southeastern Conference’s decision to cancel the game.”
As the Gators and Tigers do not have a common open date (Oct. 22 and Oct. 29, respectively), there are limited possibilities as to when the game can be played. Florida and LSU do both play lower-tier nonconference opponents on Nov. 19; in order to play that Saturday, both (or the SEC) would have to pay their respective opponents ($500,000 for Presbyterian, $1.5 million to South Alabama). The Gators would be amenable to this. The Tigers would need to be willing to give up a home game and the associated revenue both for the program and town of Baton Rouge. It would also mean three straight road games for LSU to end the season.
The weekend of the SEC Championship Game, Dec. 5, is another possibility as long as the teams do not play in the game. They could also square off the following week on Dec. 12, though that would cut into the time between the end of the semester and potential bowl games.
Finally, the week of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is a far-fetched option though a distinct possibility due to the hurricane, which could hit Jacksonville directly. Should the Florida-Georgia game be forced to move, the teams could square off the week prior, opening the Gators up to face the Tigers on LSU’s Oct. 29 open date.
The SEC office says it will also consider moving “other games on the schools’ schedules” in order to “make every effort to find a scheduling solution.”
In a press conference held 30 minutes after the announcement, Foley said the Gators are “100 percent committed to any scenario” the SEC comes up with in order to play the Tigers. “We want to play a football game,” he said.
Foley confirmed that a potential buyout for the Nov. 19 date is not out of the question and not a financial concern. He also noted that playing the game in Baton Rouge was never a consideration because the same travel difficulties Florida would have faced the same difficulties that LSU would have attempting to get to Gainesville, namely security, safety, buses, gas, etc. Furthermore, Gators players — most of whom are from the state of Florida — are concerned about their families.
Should Florida and LSU not play this season, it would be the first time since 1970 and fourth time since 1953 that the teams do not square off.
A full cancellation could also impact the Gators’ and Tigers’ chances for winning their respective divisions, creating half-game differentials that could cause problems. Such scenarios would be determined at a later date.