Florida and LSU are two SEC big names. Put them together and you get a pretty hyped up game. This year, the game was supposed to be played in The Swamp on October 8th.
But nothing went as planned.
Hurricane Matthew appeared and with the state of Florida seeming to be on its path and Gainesville being a probable target, the game was postponed on October 6th.
The SEC Commissioner, Greg Sankey, had already made the final call, but looking at the Gainesville weather on Saturday, many questioned if his call was reasonable. This is a conference game, so its importance is significant. October 13th, the game got rescheduled for November 19th to be played at LSU. But before the official rescheduling, when the foreseeable future of the game was up in the air, controversy swirled.
Fingers were pointed and the focus seemed to have shifted. Fans, media and people everywhere seemed to have forgotten one important fact: there was hurricane. This was not a decision made by any one school alone. Fingers have been pointed at UF saying the cancellation came from “fear” of playing LSU. But here’s the reality: while both schools were involved in the decision making process, Sankey made the final call. And many are standing by him in his decision. Freshman UF Student, Joy Bourgeois, fully believes the right choice was made:
I definitely think that it was the right decision to postpone the game, hurricanes are unpredictable forces and our safety personnel were needed in severe impact zones around the state.
LSU did offer to play the game on Sunday. But UF just didn’t see the trip as possible to make in light of the events of the hurricane. Gainesville Fire Department had already sent personnel out to surrounding cities that were severely impacted. Law enforcement was also spread all throughout surrounding impacted areas. Without them, it appeared unsafe and frankly, impossible for UF to host the game, let alone travel. In Athletic Director, Jeremy Foley’s initial press conference on October 6th, to discuss the events of the game, he expressed his concerns with traveling. He emphasized that with a team of such a large size traveling takes a lot of people, time and effort alone, and the whole weather situation tacked on a handful of unknown factors:
To try to put a road trip together of 150-plus people in a day and half, not knowing the condition of the roads, not knowing the conditions of the airports, trying to get equipment out there, that’s not in the best interest of safety, not in the best interest of people that would be involved in that trip. You aren’t going to put your team on the road and still have the same issue about traveling equipment trucks through this kind of weather. Traveling a team without any security because security forces are being deployed where they should be deployed. Would there be gas for the buses? Could you get buses? There’s so many unknowns.
Understandingly, LSU Athletic Director, Joe Alleva responded:
You have to respect safety. You have to respect Florida's concern about safety and travel.
The impossibility of traveling to LSU in such short notice and Matthew’s lack of impact on Gainesville aside, Matthew still had a major impact on other areas. The New York Times reported that the death toll in the US rose above two dozen, North Carolina is still suffering from left over flooding and Florida’s 72-mile-long Cocoa Beach lost about one million cubic yards of sand. So while the direct area of Gainesville only saw some rain and strong winds, Gainesville wasn’t the only area the team was concerned about. Players and even coaches had family on their minds. Bourgeois says that is another reason why she completely backs the decision:
I also think it was the right choice due to many team members having families in the severe impact zone, and I believe it would've been wrong to ask them to play while their families were in danger.
Fellow UF Student, Christina Clement, Senior, also agreed that the right decision was made given the unpredictability of weather:
I think UF made the best decision to postpone the football game due to the hurricane. Although Gainesville residents did not experience a lot of damage from the hurricane, people on the East coast of Florida and in the South Carolina regions experienced devastating damage to roadways and houses. It would not have been appropriate to host a football game when so many Florida residents and Gator fans would be impacted… The hurricane created a less than ideal situation, but we can't control mother nature. We can only adapt to the situation.
Players’ families were affected. In fact, a Twitter war erupted as Fox Sports’ controversial radio correspondent, Clay Travis, accused UF of being “scared of losing and falling in the standings” and using the hurricane as an "excuse". Gators’ QB, Luke Del Rio, fired back:
The fact of the matter was, a lot of UF players did have family in the path of the storm:
Now that the game is rescheduled and is in fact being played, other SEC teams are also rejoicing in the fact rankings will now be completely fair. The absence of this game would have created a mess with the records and standings of other SEC teams. For instance, Tennessee currently stands with a 2-1 conference record against fellow SEC teams. Let’s play a little game of “what if” for a second: theoretically, if they were to win the rest of the conference games except against the powerhouse of Saban’s Alabama, they would finish with a 6-2 conference record. And let’s say the LSU game didn’t happen for Florida, and UF just happened to win the rest of their conference games. The Gators would finish 6-1, ultimately because the LSU game didn’t happen.
Furthermore, let’s not forget about Atlanta; a factor that some have appeared to just clearly miss. In order for any SEC team to be eligible to play in the conference championship, they must play all eight SEC conference games. So even if the above scenario were true, yes Florida would have a better record than Tennessee and probably win the East. But Florida nor LSU would be in Atlanta… Tennessee, would.
Heads are still butting as some controversy still lingers. Florida AD, Jeremy Foley, is willing to make the game happen in Baton Rouge, but ESPN Gainesville 95.3 FM reported that he doesn’t appear to be too happy about how it went down:
We made this decision to play the game in Baton Rouge. The conference office asked us to find a solution in working with LSU, yet LSU was never a true partner in our discussions. The Southeastern Conference offered some other solutions and the LSU administration made it clear that they were unwilling to consider other reasonable options.
Gator Nation also seems to be rattled by the fact that their home field advantage is being stripped from their grasps.
Kyle Stoughton, Junior UF Student, expresses his disappointment that he’ll get less time spent in The Swamp this year:
I'm disappointed that the game was moved to LSU because it takes away a home field advantage that would be big for us, especially after we lost to them last year, and it gives them a huge advantage. Not to mention, it means that us students have to settle for two less home games this year, which is extremely disappointing as a huge UF football fan.
So it is clear, this whole drama-filled decision has been difficult and created some tension between the two schools. In Thursday’s press conference, Jeremy Foley fully put his true feelings out there in the open, not really holding back:
It became abundantly clear this was going to be a difficult negotiation. LSU had drawn a line in the sand and was refusing to consider any other options presented except those consistent with the line they had drawn.
He acknowledges that this decision really is nothing compared to what some families are dealing with in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Foley also pointed out how important this game is to the SEC; Foley commends Sankey for all his “tireless” work to make this situation work for both teams.
He compares the SEC to a “family”, hoping that any “wounds” that resulted in this would heal over time:
We recognize fully this decision will not be accepted by all. We ask for your trust and understanding. It is the right one for the university and this conference. The league is a family. And sometimes members of the family have to make a decision that is in the best long term interest of the family. This is what makes this conference great, in my opinion. Working together has always a part of the culture of this league, and it must continue. Hopefully time can heal any wounds that exist, it usually does.
(Click here to watch Foley’s full October 13th press conference.)
Head Coach, Jim McElwain seems to fully grasp that though this may be frustrating, the true focus is the game. And his task is to get his boys ready. McElwain sugar coats nothing in the press conference. Mac is ready for business:
As I've said all along – we will play anyone, anywhere, anytime. I think I've made that pretty clear. The Gators never run from anyone or dodge anyone.
And we thought the game was hyped before all this?
Just imagine what November 19th will be like.
Gators are determined, Tigers are hungry and a whole conference is anxious.
So the Gators will hit the road next month, drama aside, ready to leave it all on the field.
Buckle up. Because the game hasn’t even happened yet, and things are already crazy.
Leading Image Credit: Florida Gators' Instagram