**Note: Before we get started, it should be made crystal clear that our thoughts and prayers are with everybody in the state of Florida and other areas in the path of Hurricane Matthew. Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes...natural disasters suck, and nobody should have to go through that. It is hoped that any pointed criticism leveled at “Florida” here is solely aimed at the university and it’s leadership. Gator fans, stay safe. **
Indeed, it goes without saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Florida right now. It goes without saying because we've been saying it all week, when the specter of moving this game first appeared.
The leadership of the University of Florida, on the other hand, purposely drug their feet regarding this game and succeeded in increasing their odds to win the SEC East by skating a difficult game in which they would have likely been forced to start multiple backups, while securing the maximum possible financial gain for their athletic department.
In one of his final acts as Florida’s AD, Jeremy Foley pulled off a top-shelf con job right under the nose of the Southeastern Conference, and Commissioner Greg Sankey.
Am I saying there’s been some dishonesty on Foley, and Florida’s behalf in this situation? Yes, let me be clear, that is absolutely what I am saying.
Foley and Florida never wanted to play this game from the jump, instantly seeing it for the opportunity that it was. When LSU first broached the idea of the hurricane affecting the proposed 11 a.m. CST kickoff for Saturday, Foley continued to insist that there would be no problem playing this game, beyond a call for evacuation from Florida Governor Rick Scott, well beyond 72 hours from kickoff.
Why? Mostly, for money. Simply put, Florida will lose little, if any, revenue in missing this game. Most athletic departments have loss insurance for just this purpose. But that policy doesn’t kick in if the game is still played elsewhere, such as Tiger Stadium, or at a neutral site. In that scenario, the Gators would be left with the diminished gate receipts and concession sales from the other venue — and even in a stadium of comparable size, like Tiger Stadium, the short notice would have likely meant a very small gate (South Carolina’s game at LSU last year drew an announced crowd of 42,058).
As late as Wednesday evening, a source close to the negotiations says that Foley was insisting that meteorologists working for the university were expecting Matthew’s impact on campus on Saturday to feature “three inches of rain and 25-mile-per-hour winds.”
Seems a bit light for a category four hurricane that is forcing millions to evacuate, no? It also doesn’t sound like somebody that had safety as his top priority, either. This forces me to conclude one of two things: that Foley foolishly disregarded a host of other weather reports and conventional wisdom regarding the unpredictability and danger of a serious hurricane, or that he was lying.
I don’t believe Jeremy Foley to be a foolish person.
In the meantime, LSU offered multiple solutions, above and beyond moving this game:
We offered to go to Gainesville on Sunday, offered to fly in there Sunday morning, play the game and fly back Sunday night.
We offered the opportunity for them to come here Saturday or Sunday to play the game.
Other sources reported to SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey that several neutral site options were proposed as well:
LSU proposed New Orleans, Mobile and Nashville as potential sites
Florida, for its part, leaked vague discussions of a makeup date:
Florida offered to play LSU on Nov. 19 & cancel Presbyterian game, but LSU refused, source told @ESPN. LSU hosts South Alabama on Nov. 19— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) October 6, 2016
A source at LSU insists that Foley and Alleva never discussed this, something that Alleva also said openly. For his part, LSU’s AD handled this like most in his position — pointing out the efforts his program made to be accommodating while also making an end to those accommodations clear to see.
Because playing this game any other time than this weekend represents significant hardship for LSU.
For one, getting out of that game would cost LSU a minimum of $1.5 million guaranteed for South Alabama, on top of the $5-8 million in revenue that LSU typically makes for a home game (on top of the impact such a lost weekend would cause for local businesses). For another, such a move would put the Tigers playing Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M all on the road over a 12-day stretch, a proposition that any program would find unpalatable.
From LSU’s perspective, any move involving the Nov. 19 weekend would also need to involve moving the A&M game from Thanksgiving night to Saturday, Nov. 26, as well as mitigation of the lost revenue. Other options could include moving the Florida-Georgia game up a week, which would then give the teams a common bye week. Adding a week to the season and pushing back the SEC title game would be unlikely, as College Football Playoff matchups are due to be announced by Dec. 4.
As Godfrey and Alex Kirshner reported, this game has significant impact on the SEC standings. As unlikely as a 5-0 finish may seem for LSU at the moment, a 6-1 SEC mark would not be enough to get the Tigers to Atlanta over, say, a 7-1 Alabama team. Even if the Tigers beat the Crimson Tide head to head. Florida, meanwhile, has a chance to finish against a remaining slate of Missouri, Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina. First-place Tennessee, meanwhile, still has two top 10 teams on their slate, with this weekend’s Texas A&M game followed by Bama. And Butch Jones has noticed.
But truthfully, the real anger here should be directed at Sankey and the SEC office. Even with the league stepping into this situation late on Thursday, there was a blueprint for solution, although admittedly one that would be difficult logistically: play on Monday night, a la LSU and Tennessee in 2005 following Hurricane Rita. Sure, it would be hard for LSU to fly in and out that Monday, and harder still for the Tiger equipment truck to get to Gainesville amid an evacuation, but it would have been doable.
The league could have also stepped in sooner, after Florida’s ridiculous “this game will not be moved out of Gainesville” statement on Wednesday. Frankly, it looks like a pure lack of willingness on Sankey’s part to overrule Foley. And now a situation that had a number of simple solutions just two days ago, will have to involve multiple third-party schools and significant sacrifice on LSU’s part. Although that seems par for the course when LSU is involved in a conference decision, doesn’t it?
Yes, the safety of everybody should be first in everybody’s mind here. And obviously this game should not be played in Gainesville on Saturday. But that was also true two days ago, and the fact that now, this game can’t be played at all is a disappointing failure on multiple levels. One that was born out of greed and a complete lack of leadership.