LSU interim football coach Ed Orgeron kept a secret throughout Thursday’s 90-minute practice: The game between LSU and Florida, postponed last week, had been rescheduled for Nov. 19 in Tiger Stadium.
“My first thought was to tell the team,” Orgeron said during a post-practice news conference Thursday evening, “but it would ruin the whole thing about focusing on Southern Miss.”
In a surprising turn of events, Florida agreed to travel to Baton Rouge on Nov. 19 to make up the game that was scheduled to be played last Saturday in Gainesville but was washed out because of the looming threat of Hurricane Matthew.
Both programs will buy out of their nonconference games on that date. LSU owes $1.5 million to South Alabama, according to a copy of the game contract obtained by The Advocate. Florida owes Presbyterian $500,000 for a game that same day. The Southeastern Conference will help pay both buyouts with an insurance policy.
The decision was a win for LSU athletic director Joe Alleva after a heavily criticized past 11 months.
Florida wanted the Tigers to travel to Gainesville on Nov. 19, but Alleva refused to lose a home game and force his team to play three SEC road games in a 13-day span to close the season. He also declined to move the South Alabama game to Oct. 29, the Tigers' traditional open date before the clash with Alabama.
“I think it’s great, especially having the open date before Alabama and getting to play Florida at home,” Orgeron said. “I believe it’s a win, and I want to thank the administration (and) Joe Alleva. I know he worked very hard at keeping that open date and have that home game here. He did a tremendous job.”
As part of the deal, the LSU-UF game cannot start later than 2:30 p.m., according to a story posted on the Gators' official website. CBS could choose that matchup for its 2:30 p.m. game of the week; an official decision on that will not come until Nov. 7 at the earliest.
Also, LSU (3-2, 2-1) must play at Florida in 2017 and 2018. That means the Tigers will have five SEC games on the road in 2017: Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Alabama. They’ll also have just six home games in 2017. LSU opens the season in Houston against BYU, a game that will not be moved, Alleva said.
The league all but forced the rescheduling of the game. Both teams would have been ineligible for the SEC title game if they did not play an eighth conference game, the conference confirmed in a statement.
“We are happy with the decision to have our game against Florida rescheduled for Nov. 19 in Tiger Stadium,” Alleva said in a statement. “I want to thank the Southeastern Conference, in particular commissioner Greg Sankey, for his efforts to make sure that we found a place on the schedule to play the game. This is a game that our players and fans look forward to each year, and we are appreciative of the lengths that our league office went to in order to make this game happen.”
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley was not as pleased. He called discussions with Alleva and LSU President F. King Alexander this week “difficult” and said the Tigers were “not a true partner” in negotiations.
“I think it would have been a huge mistake in my opinion and my staff’s position and opinion, president (Kent) Fuchs' position, for the University of Florida to draw a line in the sand and then what would happen?” Foley asked. “Nothing good would have come out of that. At the end of the day, it’s time to step up and do what you think is right and go play a football game."
“The SEC offered some other solutions,” Foley said earlier in the day, “and LSU administration made it clear that they were unwilling to consider other reasonable options.”
In a statement from the league, Sankey said, “In the end, I want to give credit to the University of Florida for making concessions to move this year’s game to Baton Rouge.”
Tickets and parking fans purchased for LSU's game at South Alabama will be valid for the Florida game, but any tickets purchased directly from South Alabama are void. The game against Florida is deemed an LSU home game — unlike the game relocated last season from South Carolina to Baton Rouge after flooding struck the Palmetto State. That means, for one, that LSU can host recruits that day.
The fallout from all of this is a new SEC policy, the league confirmed in a statement. The SEC's presidents and chancellors plan to revise a policy to better define the process for completing postponed or interrupted contests. The new policy will grant authority to the commissioner to determine the date and location of future games that may need to be rescheduled if the institutions cannot mutually identify a date, the statement said.
This fiasco began last Tuesday, when discussions began among Florida, LSU and SEC officials as Hurricane Matthew turned toward Florida’s Atlantic coast. Alleva offered multiple scenarios to play the game during two days' worth of discussions ahead of the decision to postpone last Thursday, less than 48 hours before kickoff. Foley declined all requests and did not consider a neutral site, standing firm on his position that the game would be played in Gainesville on Saturday.
Alleva on Monday firmly rejected any notion of LSU playing on the road Nov. 19. LSU makes more than $3 million in home game revenue, and the Baton Rouge community sees an economic boost of more than $10 million on home game weekends.
For a second straight season, the Tigers will host five SEC games at home but play just 11 games total. (Last year's opener against McNeese State was washed out by weather.) And now they'll have just six home games and five SEC road games next year.
This year, they’ve got an interim head coach, an injured star running back in Leonard Fournette and a community rebounding from the worst flooding in decades.
Southern Miss (4-2) comes to town Saturday night.
“You try to deal with it, stay in the day and focus in on our team getting better," Orgeron said, "and not worry about the perimeter and all of the stuff going on.”