So, after more than a week of kerfuffle and recriminations, this is the final equation: a bitter compromise, with LSU and Florida playing their Hurricane Matthew-postponed game Nov. 19 in Tiger Stadium, the Southeastern Conference announced Thursday.
It is right that this game is played, because more important than what LSU wanted or what Florida wanted is the fact that the integrity of the SEC football championship had to be upheld. That means all 14 SEC teams playing all eight of their SEC games.
That will finally happen, but it sure didn’t have to happen this way. There’s no reason that this Thursday’s solution could not have been reached last Thursday.
Last Thursday, Florida was painting everyone into a corner with a hard hit from Matthew looking like a grim possibility for Gainesville. This after, during talks among the schools and the SEC on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Florida was adamant that the game could be played there last Saturday.
No contingencies were apparently considered, like the ones offered by LSU to play Sunday or Monday in Gainesville, or to move the game to Tiger Stadium on either of those days or Saturday. Florida wanted no part of it — not because it wanted to duck LSU but out of sheer stubbornness, and the SEC didn’t twist a Gator arm.
After the worst of Matthew’s fury stayed off Florida’s Atlantic coast, with Gainesville getting just some moderate wind and rain, Saturday was sunny there. But the die had already been cast, and the game was cast into jeopardy until SEC commissioner Greg Sankey brokered the compromise announced Thursday.
The pain, more of it than was required, does get spread around. Florida loses two home games: LSU and its scheduled game Nov. 19 against Presbyterian. LSU plays an 11-game schedule for the second straight season (last year’s home opener with McNeese State was wiped out by weather) by canceling its scheduled Nov. 19 game with South Alabama and has to travel to Florida in 2017 as a makeup for this year.
Both athletic directors took a hard line. Florida’s Jeremy Foley, by all appearances, considered no alternatives other than moving what would have been an 11 a.m. game last Saturday to later in the day once the storm moved away. LSU’s Joe Alleva was adamant Monday that LSU would play a home game Nov. 19, and he was proved right.
Foley, who’s retiring from Florida and none too soon after what has been to this point an exemplary career, went out blasting:
"We made this decision to play the game in Baton Rouge," he said. "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."
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Come on, Jeremy. Who was the unreasonable one in the beginning?
Neither the SEC nor Florida have explained why the Tigers and Gators couldn’t have played this past Sunday or Monday if — and that's a HUGE if — the hurricane didn’t jog west and slam Gainesville with a lot of storm damage. If that had happened, had Matthew roared through Gainesville with 90-mph wind or some such, well, the game could have been canceled and everyone would have understood.
As it is, there is no answer to that question. The only answer is it was Florida, not LSU, that was unwilling to bend.
As usual, it takes a botched situation to bring about the promise of bandage legislation. Apparently the SEC will now consider giving its commissioner broader power to press for workable options in situations like this.
“Historically, we have always enjoyed a great relationship with Florida,” Alleva said. “We have great respect for their institution and their football program. I hope that we can all learn from this experience and, as a league, be in a better position to deal with these situations in the future.”
Yeah, a future in which Scott Stricklin, not Foley, is athletic director at Florida.
Personally, I believe if Mike Slive were still the SEC’s commissioner, this game would have been played somewhere last weekend. Sankey looks like he got played by Foley, who probably won’t be the last SEC AD to try to work a situation to their school’s advantage while Sankey is in office.
After a week of uncertainty follow a Hurricane Matthew-postponed LSU vs. Florida matchup, th…
Some quick thoughts on aftershocks from this episode:
• This is a break for interim LSU coach Ed Orgeron, in a sense. He gets a tough game with Florida at home, but LSU’s November just got a lot tougher: Alabama, at Arkansas, Florida and at Texas A&M, which the Tigers still have to play Nov. 24. If Orgeron can somehow run that gauntlet, he’d probably get the job by acclamation.
• Tennessee is happy, and South Carolina is not. Tennessee gets the SEC East race to be played as it should be. South Carolina, which had to play a home game with LSU here last year because of flooding there, didn't get that game back.
• Whoever LSU's coach is next year gets a doozy of a schedule: road games with Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Mississippi State and home games with Auburn, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
But that’s next season. This year, LSU is still in the running for the SEC championship and still a dark horse shot at the College Football Playoff.
Maybe the drama is just starting.