Put aside for a moment the process that led to Saturday’s LSU game at Florida being postponed Thursday because Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on the Sunshine State. Forget for now whether the University of Florida steered the decision process and whether the Southeastern Conference let itself be steered.
The bottom line is the game was not played, and there’s a chance it may never be played. But failure to play somewhere, somehow, is not an option. It’s going to require hardship and sacrifice on the part of both schools and almost certainly some others on their schedules, but it has to be done.
Though he did not act to save the LSU-Florida game from being postponed initially, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey did at least give the indication Saturday that he would bring the sides together.
In an interview on CBS during the Tennessee-Texas A&M game, Sankey told CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson, “It’s important to play that game. We need to work together to find a way to do that. We need to find a way to come together to play a game together.”
Fortunately, Gainesville was spared significant storm damage as Matthew’s center stayed just off Florida’s east coast. The Gainesville Sun reported downed power lines and tree limbs, but at most 3,500 homes in Alachua County, where Gainesville sits, lost power. The peak winds in Gainesville gusted to 48 mph. The storm dumped just over an inch of rain there.
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LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said last week it would be difficult to find a way to play this game, and it will. LSU and Florida have no common open dates. At best, there are two plausible scenarios:
1. Have LSU buy out of its Nov. 19 nonconference home game with South Alabama, while Florida buys out its home game with Presbyterian.
2. Have Florida and Georgia move their Oct. 29 game in Jacksonville to Oct. 22, when they have a common open date. LSU could then use its scheduled Oct. 29 open date to play at Florida.
The latter scenario is more palatable for LSU because it wouldn’t lose a home game. Gov. Jon Bel Edwards said this game is worth $6 million to LSU — lost revenue from the game and the $1.5 million it would have to pay South Alabama. A 2014 study indicated an LSU home game is worth $15 million to Baton Rouge businesses, an undeserved blow to the local economy.
If the game has to be played Nov. 19, then the SEC and/or Florida must compensate LSU for its losses, though the recourse for local businesses is another matter. In addition, whether LSU-Florida would be in Gainesville or Baton Rouge, the SEC would have to compel Texas A&M to move its Thanksgiving night home game with LSU on Nov. 24 to the 26th. The suggestion of LSU playing three straight SEC road games against currently ranked opponents — Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M — after a home game Nov. 5 against No. 1 Alabama is unfair.
LSU's game at Florida was postponed Thursday after Hurricane Matthew wiped out any chance at…
Ultimately, the game must be played to preserve the competitive integrity of the SEC championship.
If LSU plays seven SEC games, the following could happen: LSU could win out and finish 6-1. Alabama or Texas A&M could win out and go 7-1, one or the other losing only to LSU. That team would then go to the SEC championship game instead of LSU, even though LSU would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
A similar scenario could develop in the SEC East: Tennessee has the tiebreaker on Florida. But if Tennessee loses two games to finish 6-2 and Florida wins out to go 6-1, Florida would go to Atlanta.
“If you don’t play the game,” former LSU All-American and SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears said Friday, “you eliminate fair play.”
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The task for maintaining fair play now sits on Sankey’s desk. To borrow a line from “Animal House,” “I put it to you, Greg!” Make this game happen.
Danielson asked Sankey whether he had the authority as commissioner to make the final decision on the game. Sankey equivocated slightly, then recovered to acknowledge a responsibility to the SEC at large.
“We need to come together,” he said. “That’s the reality. I am in position to lead this effort. We all have a responsibility because this affects the entire conference.”
There is precedent on Sankey’s side for the SEC to take a defining role. In 2005, then-commissioner Mike Slive decided on Thursday of game week, with Hurricane Rita about to make landfall at the Louisiana-Texas border on Saturday, that LSU’s home game with Tennessee would have to be played on Monday in Tiger Stadium. It was difficult for all involved — Tennessee flew in on the day of the game and flew out right after because there were no hotel rooms in Baton Rouge — but the game was played.
No one has the moral authority to preach to the people of Louisiana about hurricanes and the hardships they bring. But now it’s time, in Matthew’s wake, to pick up the branches, reconnect the power and get about the business of getting this game played in a way that is fairest to LSU, to Baton Rouge and to the SEC at large.