By GLENN GUILBEAU
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
BATON ROUGE – Here is where the storm of anger began with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and his flawed approach to LSU’s game at Florida originally scheduled for 11 a.m. central time Saturday, October 8, in Gainesville, Florida:
“The game will not be moved out of Gainesville,” a release from the school said on Wednesday, October 6, concerning the approach of Hurricane Matthew.
It should have added:
“The game will not be played this weekend,” because Foley illustrated later that his mind was already made up. His team was not playing last weekend.
That first statement came out late that Wednesday afternoon after the latest Matthew update, which clearly indicated that Gainesville would be very close to the projected path of the storm. Also on Wednesday, President Obama declared a state of emergency for the state of Florida because of the projected path of Matthew. Florida announced on Wednesday it would close school for Friday, yet Foley kept the game scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday.
WAFB Channel 9 meteorologist Steve Caparotta made it very clear after that weather forecast that Gainesville should not be hosting a game on Saturday at 11 a.m.
“This is the epitome of irresponsibility,” Caparotta said. “The Florida campus is closing Friday, but, ‘C’mon back, we’ll play some football Saturday.’”
Foley also either lied or just was not aware of current events when he said this at his press conference on Thursday.
“As late as yesterday afternoon when we spoke to the league, we thought there would be a very, very good chance that we could play on Saturday,” Foley said. “Maybe adjust the game time, but we really thought we were going to be able to play. In fact, when I went home last night (Wednesday night), that’s what I thought.”
Jeremy, no one thought on Wednesday “night” that LSU and Florida could play on Saturday morning. You either lied or you don’t have the Weather Channel or a television, a radio, a computer or an iPhone.
Interestingly, a story on the Florida athletics website on Thursday changed the “night” reference by Foley. It read, “When Foley left the office on Wednesday afternoon, he remained confident the Gators-LSU game scheduled for Saturday would be played.”
Maybe just a slip by the writer. Or maybe a little clean-up. Foley, in reality, was stalling.
Foley is a smart man and has been a great athletic director at Florida for 25 years. He knew Florida could not host a football game on Saturday, but what he did was execute a superb delay tactic with the Southeastern Conference office to get any Matthew decision involving the Gators from Wednesday to Thursday. Foley no doubt noticed the year before how South Carolina and the SEC decided on a Wednesday last October to move South Carolina’s home game against LSU to Baton Rouge because of historic flooding in Columbia, South Carolina, and the area.
That wasn’t going to happen to his team. See above statement: “The game will not be moved out of Gainesville.”
By Thursday after Foley successfully bamboozled SEC commissioner Greg Sankey into delaying a decision, Sankey was backed into a corner. It was too late to move the game to Baton Rouge or to a neutral site. The fix was in. The game was over, because Sankey let it be over. As late as Thursday or Friday, the game could have been moved to Sunday or Monday in Gainesville, but everyone fumbled where other schools in the hurricane path or close to it did not.
“We had a conference call on Wednesday,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said Thursday afternoon. “And they were very confident that they could play the game. They thought maybe they may have to move the time a little later. Then today (Thursday), it all fell apart. Today from the very beginning, it just fell apart.”
Meanwhile, Foley admitted on Thursday he had not bothered to even look into any neutral sites and evidently Sankey had not either. They had Tuesday and Wednesday to do that. And Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, was available with tenant South Alabama open that weekend. It’s only a 40,000-seat stadium, but it is a good stadium. The NFL makes sure of that as it hosts the Senior Bowl every year.
It would’ve taken work, but it could’ve been done. It would’ve taken less work than what Sankey is knee deep in now – changing the schedules of South Alabama and Presbyterian on November 19 so LSU can go to Florida on that date. LSU will have to pay South Alabama $1.5 million to get out of that home game and lose another $3 million, which is what it makes on a home game. Florida would have to pay Presbyterian, scheduled for a game at Florida on November 19, just $500,000. Or if the SEC decides to move the Florida-Georgia game from October 29 to October 22 (open date for Florida and Georgia) and have LSU and Florida play on October 29, that could work. But now you are involving Georgia in the mess just because Florida and Foley did not have the ability – or the desire – to postpone a game by a day or two.
Meanwhile, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic each postponed games from Saturday to Sunday in very similar Matthew situations as Florida found itself in. Sankey on Saturday accurately pointed out that Gainesville was chosen as a evacuee location, and the other areas were not. This is true, and LSU needing hotels rooms in Gainesville would hurt bump evacuees. But that second part is not true. Sankey must have forgot that Alleva said on Wednesday and Thursday that LSU could fly to Gainesville, play, and fly out on the same day on Sunday or Monday, so the evacuees or various emergency personnel would not have been pushed out of any hotel rooms.
But Foley, who was supposed to be retired by now but delayed it until November 1 to ease the transition of new athletic director Scott Stricklin, and Sankey just did not seem like they wanted to do much of anything regarding any movement of this game this weekend. That was the problem. And now Sankey has a bigger problem.
To every scenario offered by Joe Alleva, Foley just said no and Sankey let him do it. In his press conference Thursday, Foley kept using the word impossible. Most anything is possible if one wants to do it. This is why South Carolina moved its game to LSU last year on a dime because of flooding. This is why LSU moved its home game to Arizona State in 2005 because of Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina. This is why the SEC delayed the LSU-Tennessee game by two days because of Rita in 2005.
Foley did not want to cooperate. To Foley, November 19 must have always seemed better than last weekend. His cost is only $500,000 for that move. And it will be his second straight home game. For LSU, it will mean three straight on the road, and as far as how the schedule reads now, the Tigers will have to play on the Thursday after that game at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving. The SEC plans to try move that game to Saturday, however, if the November 19 reschedule is completed.
On November 19, Florida will also likely have a healthy defensive line as it was expected to be without three starters against LSU last weekend. It will also have a healthier original starting quarterback in Luke Del Rio, who would have been gimpy at best for LSU last weekend. Now, it is far-fetched to think that Florida purposefully avoided playing this game last weekend because of injuries, but it is very likely that it will be a better team on October 22 or on November 19 than it would have been on October 8, 9 or 10. Let’s be honest, Vanderbilt pushed this team around as Florida struggled to a 13-6 win on October 1 with a battered defensive line.
It’s all very fishy, Foley.
GUILBEAU SEC POLL: 1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC). 2. Texas A&M (6-0, 4-0). 3. Tennessee (5-1, 2-1). 4. Arkansas (4-2, 0-2). 5. Ole Miss (3-2, 1-1). 6. Auburn (4-2, 2-1). 7. LSU (3-2, 2-1). 8. Florida (4-1, 2-1). 9. Georgia (4-2, 2-2). 10. Mississippi State (2-3, 1-2). 11. Missouri (2-3, 0-2). 12. Kentucky (3-3, 2-2). 13. South Carolina (2-4, 1-4). 14. Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-3).
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
[su_quote]“No. No. No.”[/su_quote]
—Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley to every possible scenario for an LSU-Florida game last weekend suggested by LSU athletic director Joe Alleva on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, most of which involved the game remaining in Gainesville, Florida, and it being moved to Sunday (or Monday) as other schools in very similar Hurricane Matthew circumstances did.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK II:
[su_quote]“I have my own level of angst, but we need to come together to play a football game and find the best way to do that.”[/su_quote]
—SEC commissioner Greg Sankey on Saturday, perhaps suggesting that not everyone was “together” during discussions last week.