LSU coach Ed Orgeron will spend his Saturday at a football game — just not the game he anticipated attending.
LSU’s game at Florida was postponed indefinitely and is unlikely to be rescheduled, school officials say, as Hurricane Matthew roars toward Florida’s east coast. This is, potentially, the first cancellation of a Southeastern Conference football game in league history.
“I just want our fans to know and everyone to know that LSU made every attempt to try to play this game,” LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said.
The Tigers and Gators were scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. CDT Saturday in Gainesville, Florida, but the Category 4 storm washed out any chance of that. Matthew, packing winds of 140 mph, is expected to straddle the state’s east coast and bring tropical storm force winds and heavy rain to Gainesville, Florida, throughout Friday.
It’s doubtful the two schools will make up the game, multiple LSU sources confirmed to The Advocate. LSU went nearly 100 years without having a game canceled before lightning canceled last year’s season opener against McNeese State.
The league office released a statement saying it will “work” to reschedule the two SEC rivals. They do not share an open date, but they both host nonconference opponents on Nov. 19. The Tigers, though, are likely unwilling to give up their game against South Alabama because of home game revenue (at least $3 million), a $1.5 million buyout fee to USA and the effect on an already tough season-ending stretch.
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Meanwhile, Orgeron is treating the weekend as an open week, he said, allowing players off practice Friday through Sunday. He’ll attend McNeese State’s game at Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday night to watch his sons Parker and Cody, who play for the Cowboys.
Orgeron told the team of the SEC’s decision to “indefinitely postpone” the game at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, less than 48 hours before the squads were scheduled to play.
“It was like daddy walked in (on) Christmas Day, and there was no Christmas presents,” Orgeron said. “That’s how I felt, I’ll be honest with you. I just felt I let them down with the news.”
LSU's game against the Florida Gators scheduled for Saturday has been postponed, the school …
Alleva held a news conference Thursday saying the school is “disappointed” in the outcome of two days worth of discussions with Florida and SEC officials. Matthew’s projected path rarely changed since Tuesday, when discussions began with the three parties.
“My first conversation with (Florida Athletic Director) Jeremy (Foley) was on Tuesday. He was confident they were going to be able to play the game. We had a conference call on Wednesday. They were very confident that they could play the game. They thought, maybe, they would have to move the time to later,” Alleva said. “Then, today, it all felt apart. From the very beginning, it just all fell apart.”
LSU offered a Florida a slew of things, Alleva said. The Tigers offered to host the game on Saturday or Sunday and would have hosted it on Monday, too, he said. They offered to provide transportation to Florida to Baton Rouge or a neutral site.
They offered to play the game in Gainesville on Sunday, when the hurricane would be long through the area. Also in the path of the storm is the Georgia-South Carolina game in Columbia, South Carolina. That game was moved to Sunday, the SEC office announced Thursday night.
“I suggested we play the game on Sunday in front of nobody if there was no police available,” Alleva said.
Florida declined all of LSU’s options.
“To try to put a road trip together of 150 people in a day and half ... not in the best interest of safety," Foley said in a separate news conference in Gainesville earlier Thursday.
“We make these decision on what matters. People's safety is what matters," he said. “It took as long as it did because of all the moving parts.”
“Their whole concern was safety,” Alleva said. “You’ve got to bring the equipment truck. There’s a lot of safety issues. There was no police. I don’t know if y’all listened to Jeremy’s press conference. I’m sympathetic to what (Jeremy) said. I understand what he said."
LSU, though, was “willing to do it,” Alleva said. “We were willing to go there. We had a plane. We had busses. We were willing to go. That’s my point I want to make here: We were willing to play the game. We would have done anything to play the game.”
Making up the game does not seem feasible. LSU plays South Alabama on Nov. 19 when Florida hosts Presbyterian. The Gators want both schools to drop those nonconference games and meet in Gainesville, Florida, then.
That would mean LSU losing a home game and revenue in excess of $3 million. There is a $1.5 million buyout fee to South Alabama, too, and LSU would play three straight SEC road games in a 12-day span under that scenario: at Arkansas, at Florida and at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night.
“I haven’t come to a decision on that yet, but it would be pretty damn tough to play on the 19th and then play A&M on Thursday,” Alleva said. “It would be very difficult to give up a home game to make up this game.”
The potential cancellation could significant impact the SEC standings for LSU (3-2, 2-1) and Florida (4-1, 2-1).
If LSU were to win out and finish at 6-1 in the conference, the Tigers would not advance to the SEC championship game over a 7-1 SEC team. If Florida finishes 6-1 in the conference and Tennessee is 6-2, the Gators advance to the title game.
“They do have to play the football game. It gets back to competitive balance,” UT coach Butch Jones said Thursday on a Nashville radio show.
Gators officials were adamant against moving the game, LSU President F. King Alexander told The Advocate on Wednesday, and Foley confirmed just that Thursday. Florida did not consider neutral sites, Foley said. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement Thursday afternoon.
“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,” Sankey said in the release.
In 2005, then-SEC Commissioner Mike Slive decided on a Thursday that LSU would play Tennessee the next Monday, two days after Hurricane Rita made landfall in south Louisiana.
“Yeah,” Alleva said. “That was the commissioner’s decision to do that back then.”
Why didn’t he do it this time?
Replied Alleva, curtly: “It was his power to do that.”