The fallout of last Saturday’s Florida Gators-LSU Tigers game being postponed and then rescheduled will be dealt with for at least three years, as the teams play this year’s game in Baton Rouge, swap next year’s game to Gainesville, and then play a second consecutive game in the rivalry at Florida for the first time ever in 2018.
And as with any story this big, any decision this seismic, there is plenty of accounting of winners and losers to do. SB Nation’s Jason Kirk has his big-picture overview — spoiler: LSU wins, Florida loses! — but I wanted to run down things in a bit more detail.
I never do that, after all.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva
Gators fans will mostly not see Alleva as anything other than a villain for years to come, and that’s fair. LSU’s AD still managed to find a resolution that is positive for the Tigers and Baton Rouge in almost every way by reportedly being almost solicitously accommodating to a disaster-struck SEC school for the second straight year, making absolutely sure that the LSU beat knew full well how generous the Tigers were being by doing so, and then holding firm and using Florida’s desire to compete for an SEC title as pivotal leverage.
This is brilliant, cunning, cut-throat work that LSU fans ought to defend as such. Through hardball, Alleva secured the Tigers’ 10th SEC home game over the last two seasons, two more than any other SEC school will get, and preserved their 14th home game over that same span. (LSU is also now in the midst of a four-game homestand broken up by two byes; it’s the second straight year that LSU has had four consecutive home games.) If Alleva somehow wrangles LSU’s 2017 opener — currently a game with BYU set to kick off in Houston, which Alleva said Thursday would remain as such — back to Baton Rouge, the Tigers could play 21 home games over three seasons.
While it’s unclear exactly how much a home game is worth, it’s safe to assume each one rakes in several million dollars for LSU, and probably at least hundreds of thousands more for the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. (LSU’s proximity to Bourbon Street will forever make it a popular destination for visiting fans; it’s possible that LSU and its stakeholders benefit more from home games than any other school and city in the SEC, and possibly even the country.)
If all Alleva has to do to pull in those millions of dollars is stick to his guns, play the LSU-covering media expertly, create a ridiculous road schedule for 2017, be fitted for a villain’s cape by Florida fans, and maybe enter into future negotiations with conference partners as a marked man, that’s really not much of a price to pay.
2016 LSU season ticket-holders
LSU’s 2016 home schedule, as it stands now: Jacksonville State, Mississippi State, Missouri, Southern Miss, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The Tigers will be the second SEC West team to get both Alabama and Florida — the SEC’s only three-time national champions in the last 25 years — at home this year, along with Arkansas ... and this will be both the first time since 2011 that any SEC West team has done so and the only year until 2020 that any SEC West team will see that formidable duo at home.
Upgrading from South Alabama to Florida on a home schedule is a pretty neat trick, if you can manage it. Might take a hurricane, though!
It is undeniable that Baton Rouge has been beleaguered in 2016. The killing of Alton Sterling and the killing of Baton Rouge police officers in its wake rocked the city in July, and devastating flooding tormented it in August. Any of those three things would leave a community reeling; all three have left Baton Rouge emotionally and economically fragile.
Having Florida fans come to town — in greater numbers than South Alabama fans likely would have — should help provide a shot in the arm to local business revenues, as will LSU fans turning out in greater numbers for a game against Florida than one against South Alabama. And LSU fans and Baton Rouge residents looking for a finer fall than their stormy summer got an unexpected bonus in the form of this game.
Those folks did nothing to deserve this game, just as Florida fans did nothing to deserve losing it. But I’m not going to be so heartless as to not acknowledge that this might be a needed salve in some ways.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron
Kirk noted this, but LSU’s interim coach now has another home game and another chance to get a big win that might impress fickle LSU boosters enough to keep him on beyond 2016 instead of adding a high-dollar contract for Tom Herman or Jimbo Fisher to the existing costs of buying out Les Miles and his staff.
And he’ll almost certainly have a healthier offensive line and a healthier Leonard Fournette for that game than he would have had on Saturday in Gainesville, and got an extra bye week to rest his players in the middle of the season.
“I believe it’s a win,” Orgeron said Thursday. No kidding.
2017 Florida season ticket-holders
Florida’s 2017 schedule was going to go down as one of the most challenging in school history even before Thursday. Now it’s even more exciting, with Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, and Florida State all coming to town.
On paper, that could be the best home schedule Florida has ever had — and this is a program that always plays either Florida State or LSU at home, has played Auburn, Miami, and Tennessee annually for stretches of its existence, and often hosts Alabama. Determining how good the 2017 schedule is will be a fun exercise for the offseason.
The Gators actually playing it is going to be a blast.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey’s on-air interview with Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson during last Saturday’s Texas A&M-Tennessee game was a bit of a mess, because Sankey could only answer one (“What happened?”) of the two questions (“What’s going to happen?”) worth asking. But what the interview revealed is just how happy CBS is probably going to be to air Florida-LSU at 3:30 p.m. on November 19.
There’s a stipulation in the agreement bringing the Gators to Baton Rouge on that day that the game can’t kick off after 3:30 p.m. Eastern, which I suppose is a Florida-advocated protection against having to play night games in Death Valley in consecutive years.
But, uh, have you looked at the SEC’s schedule on November 19? LSU-Florida is only one of four conference games, and the other three are Mississippi State-Arkansas, Tennessee-Missouri, and Vanderbilt-Mississippi. Only one of those four matchups doesn’t feature a team with a current losing record — and it is, of course, LSU-Florida.
If you think this game is anything other than the CBS game at 3:30 p.m. on November 19, you’re kidding yourself. And if you think CBS isn’t quietly stoked to be airing the Gators taking on the Tigers instead of Arkansas traveling to Starkville, you’re insane.
Presbyterian and South Alabama
Likewise, if you think Presbyterian and South Alabama decision-makers aren’t quietly pleased with getting paychecks from SEC schools for, in essence, having the good fortune to sign contracts years ago, you don’t get how important a guarantee game can be to a school on the margins.
Guarantee games helped Presbyterian put up lights on its stadium in 2014, and will help the Blue Hose stay at the FCS level they have only played at since 2011. South Alabama, similarly new to Division I, doesn’t even have an on-campus stadium. Getting money without having to outlay expenses is a blessing to both schools, one that outstrips the value of bringing players (and fans) to a cathedral of college football.
Presbyterian might yet play at Florida someday, and will certainly take trips to other big schools’ beautiful stadiums. South Alabama will, too. Both schools are located too close to too many ACC and SEC foes to not be on the list for future guarantee games. Cancelling their games at Florida and LSU is only really a loss for those players on those teams this year.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley
To be clear: Foley didn’t lose here for reasons other than Hurricane Matthew existing, Florida being steadfast on wanting to play this game in Gainesville last weekend if possible, Alleva being steadfast on LSU’s desire to not lose a 2016 home game, and Florida wanting to compete for an SEC title in 2016. Matthew, which was obviously wholly out of Foley’s control, was the most important of those, and the source that all of the other reasons flowed from, so it’s hard to blame Foley too strenuously.
But he did lose.
And if you’re of the mind that Foley’s deliberate, methodical handling of virtually everything he’s done is actually his fatal flaw, you have evidence to mine here. With the help of his UAA lieutenants, Foley made the final massively consequential decision of his tenure by waiting for the sharpest picture of Matthew to develop, hoping that it would track east and spare enough of Florida to make a game in Gainesville on Saturday both feasible and responsible.
That jog eastward never happened. But it was, yes, meteorologically possible, regardless of what was said by LSU fans and those on the Tigers beat who brayed as early as Monday that a game “could not” be played in Gainesville on Saturday. A game would have been technically feasible, after all, in the sense that the clear, calm weather in Gainesville all day on Saturday would have facilitated a kickoff.
By Thursday, however, with Matthew’s approach to areas that could need resources from or send evacuees to Gainesville fewer than 24 hours away, it was not responsible to play Florida-LSU in Gainesville on Saturday — or even, I’d argue, on Sunday or Monday. Can you imagine the furor that would have been whipped up had a Sunday kickoff for Florida-LSU yanked Gainesville firefighters away from a search for trapped residents on Florida’s east coast, or displaced evacuees from Gainesville hotel rooms?
Florida and Foley received plenty of criticism for their decision to cancel the game, too, despite that being the obvious decision. Perversely, it feels like it would have been more acceptable to some outside the state of Florida for Foley et al. to cancel the game had Matthew done more economic damage than it did — assuredly, Florida sustained damage in the billions of dollars — or exacted a human toll greater than the 12 lives it took in the state.
And Foley and Florida have taken more and louder criticism for not playing a game than North Carolina and N.C. State decision-makers did for stubbornly refusing to cancel games that were played in torrential rains. Those rains led to floods that have killed 22 North Carolinians, and have left the state’s governor pleading with people to understand that blue skies alone don’t mean that danger has passed — but, hey, football games got played on Saturday.
It would only truly have been responsible in regards to safety for Florida-LSU to have been played last weekend had it been relocated.
And the only viable option for relocation would have been Florida decamping for Baton Rouge on short notice.
Had Foley capitulated on relocating the game — which is what he ultimately did, more or less — prior to Thursday, accepting LSU’s terms in regards to gate receipts and so forth, he would have been spit-roasted by Gators beat writers, Florida fans, and the Gainesville community for robbing them of 2016’s best home game for nothing more than a UAA payday, especially when Saturday rolled around and the sun shined over The Swamp.
By waiting last week and then being proactive in efforts to reschedule, Foley let LSU prove to be every bit as “unreasonable” as he was accused of being last week, winning the war in the media after losing the first skirmish and ensuring that he, not Alleva, comes away from this looking more honorable — regardless of the fact that both men arguably did equally “dishonorable” things while sticking to their principles and aiming for similar goals.
And Foley did wrest some concession — a home game that seals the Gators’ 2017 home schedule as maybe the best in program history (and assures that Foley successor Scott Stricklin will have a beautiful balance sheet in his first full year on the job, at Foley’s expense) — out of it.
Florida still loses two home games in 2016 — the trade-off for that awesome 2017 slate is what is now an execrable 2016 schedule “highlighted” by, uh, Missouri? South Carolina? — and there will be plenty of anxiety for Gainesville businesses because of that. But Foley was in a no-win situation just about as soon as Matthew steered between Cuba and the rockier parts of Hispaniola, guaranteeing that it would become a problem of some sort for the Sunshine State, and Alleva smartly preyed on that to get a favorable outcome for LSU.
Did Foley get the least worst outcome for Florida? I’m not sure, though I think it’s arguable. He had to be a loser here, though, because that’s just how things go sometimes.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey
Frankly, Sankey was in an even bigger no-win situation than Foley was. He had to deal with two proud and powerful schools led by proud and powerful athletic directors, and he didn’t have the leverage to force them to compromise until the point at which he or someone in Birmingham suddenly and fortuitously remembered that teams must play eight conference games to be eligible for the SEC title ... after spending late last week suggesting that Florida could win the SEC East with a 6-1 conference record.
And yet: Sankey couldn’t keep LSU fans happy last week, couldn’t keep Florida fans happy this week, and couldn’t get Alleva to the table for the sort of bargaining that would have made this a more comfortable resolution for all parties.
Implementing new rules that clarify exactly when games must be cancelled and vesting the power to reschedule them exclusively with the commissioner will both be good changes to come of this — but there will be SEC member schools who look back at this and see that schools can be left high and dry by obstinacy in Sankey’s conference. While I think the “Mike Slive would have made this work better” theory that Steven Godfrey put forth earlier this week assumes a lot — specifically, that Slive would have been able to cow Florida and Foley into definitively cancelling last week’s game early enough to announce a rescheduling at the same time, or immediately afterward, something that I just don’t think would have been possible — it is abundantly clear that Sankey will be judged against his predecessor’s hypothetical iron-fisted handling of this, and poorly.
The last week has been a bad, bad time to be a college football fan who strives to be rational. Calm, measured approaches have been in short supply, and those trying to take them have been drowned out by fools who profit off volume and stridence, never care and sensitivity.
Too many LSU fans spent last week shouting about player safety and faulting Florida for, in their view, nonchalantly dealing with an impending hurricane — as if the Gators taking their time actually endangered players, or was more likely to do so than making a rash decision. Too many Florida fans — and I could include myself in this — responded to those LSU fans in kind, with vitriol, venom, and more-endangered-than-thou talk that shut down dialogue.
Too many Tennessee fans got involved in this dispute, period, and too many of those that did took cues from a carnival barker and all-around awful human who was only too happy to push a “Florida’s scared!” narrative that got pretty well torpedoed by the Gators not just agreeing to swap a home game for a road game, but giving up another home game to do so. (That Tennessee fans decided to complain en masse about this, and the perceived unfairness of Florida hypothetically finishing 6-1 in SEC play and ahead of a 6-2 Tennessee, says plenty about how confident those fans are in the Vols.)
Too many people, generally, became instant experts on the costs, logistics, and minutiae of college sports. We heard the hue and cry about Florida’s soccer and volleyball teams being able to play over the weekend without hearing equally loud but far calmer voices explaining the colossal differences between playing scheduled games and rescheduling games within the space of days or hours. The same went for apples-and-oranges comparisons to LSU hosting South Carolina during a far less fluid situation in 2015, and to LSU’s hurricane-pockmarked 2005 season, when LSU serving as a refuge after Hurricane Katrina led the NCAA to move its season opener to Arizona State, and the threat of a forfeit by Tennessee in advance of Hurricane Rita forced Slive’s hand — pined for today because of its swift distribution of justice, right? — in rescheduling that game for a Monday night. Facts and fiction mixed, and too few folks were interested in separating them.
Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee made one of the finest points of the week by noting that dozens of Florida players are from the area projected to be hardest hit by Matthew, and that it was callous to expect them to worry about football this weekend ... and has had to defend making that point since, with the seemingly blindingly obvious “Life is more important (than football)” falling on deaf ears.
Perhaps that’s because life isn’t more important than football to some. That ugly truth, revealed in the wake of a killer storm, frightens me.
2016 Florida season ticket-holders
Congratulations: You paid to see UMass, Kentucky, North Texas, Missouri, and South Carolina come to The Swamp!
Maybe you can sell those LSU tickets on eBay? They’re collectors’ items now!
Florida and LSU players
Players play games. They have very, very little control over whether those games will be played — I suppose Florida or LSU players could have banded together to simply reject playing last weekend, though that would have required the decision-makers above them to be far more incompetent than they are — and are thus put in a position to defend actions they can’t impact. That alone is vexing.
What’s worse, though, is that those players now get to be called cowards (Florida players) or whiners (Florida and LSU players) or cheaters (LSU players) by those obnoxious fans mentioned above, and have to play big games at the end of their debilitating, exhausting seasons.
Florida’s November schedule is now, in order: at Arkansas, South Carolina — in a rescheduled Senior Day game that will pit several Gators seniors against the coach that recruited them — at LSU, at Florida State. That is brutal, even if Arkansas, LSU, and FSU aren’t quite the juggernauts some thought they would be in August, and Florida could very conceivably enter the month 6-1 and end it 7-4 without even playing poorly.
LSU’s November schedule, meanwhile? Alabama, at Arkansas, Florida, at Texas A&M. Those four games will be played over just 19 days, and the final two over just six. That is excruciating, and arguably even more grueling than Florida’s slate, depending on whether you think road games or better foes provide more difficulty.
These players didn’t ask for those schedules. They aren’t getting hazard pay for them, either — or overtime, or any of the many things that other employees of nine-figure businesses get when circumstances make work harder.
And, yes, I’d argue these new schedules are harder work, despite one fewer game this fall: Florida and LSU didn’t schedule Presbyterian and South Alabama as home finales with the idea that their starters would have to sweat for 60 minutes to get hard-fought wins, and though one fewer game diminishes the ever-present injury risk in some senses, having to press through a withering November schedule without getting a lighter week of work to nurse a season’s nicks and bruises may make the delta in total toll on those players positive.
But, hey, at least Florida’s seniors will probably get to play games at noon, in the afternoon, and at night in Death Valley!
Presbyterian and South Alabama
As good as a cancelled game and a valid check may be for the Blue Hose and Jaguars programs, not getting to play in The Swamp or Death Valley has to be a disappointment for the players and coaches who were looking forward to those games. (South Alabama wanted to play at LSU so badly that it offered to move its homecoming game!)
Those players will now play each other, which isn’t quite the same as taking on Florida in Gainesville or LSU in Baton Rouge, and probably spares them all a game of being pushed around, which is nice. But I imagine that most would gladly trade the increased wear and tear of playing against a titan of college football for the memory. Blue Hose seniors now play their final game against South Alabama instead of Florida, and South Alabama’s won’t get the chance to go 2-0 against the SEC West after upsetting Mississippi State earlier this year.
For David, playing Goliath is a no-lose situation, especially when Goliath is happy to pay for the privilege of snatching the sling away. Not playing Goliath, though, robs David of a chance to make history. And it’s okay to remember that.
The biggest loser in this entire saga, I think, has to be Gainesville. While LSU holding fast to staging a home game in Baton Rouge on November 19 has been hailed as Alleva doing right by his school and community, it also does more damage to Gainesville than LSU losing just one game would have done to the Baton Rouge community.
After all, Florida is now losing two home games this year, not just one. The SEC can pay for some of that with new insurance policies, and, as Foley pointed out in his Thursday press conference, the UAA can do some ledger-based legerdemain to loan itself money and cover the loss of millions in ticket-related revenue alone before extra revenue flows into the program in 2017.
But most Gainesville businesses can’t do that. Hotels and restaurants — some of them already hurting, like the beloved Burrito Bros. — are going to suffer as a result of this, possibly even resulting in closings and the elimination of jobs.
Some economic pain was basically unavoidable for at least one of the two schools and its stakeholders as soon as Matthew churned toward the Bahamas as a major hurricane, and as soon as the game was cancelled, that pain was guaranteed to be more significant than the impact of mere reduced attendance. That’s just how meteorological luck worked out. Matthew not only reduced the size of the pie available to both schools — something that Florida tried to avoid by holding out hope — but created a zero-sum game that Florida and LSU had to play, and that someone had to lose.
Florida will probably come out closer to even over 2016 and 2017 under the plan in place than it would have had it simply given up on rescheduling this game, because an LSU home game in 2017 is worth more to Florida itself than a Presbyterian home game in 2016. Gainesville, though, is not going to make as much from an LSU home game in 2017 as it would have from LSU and Presbyterian home games in 2016 — and the value of cash on hand to businesses that have to deal with expenses on a month-to-month basis is enormous.
There is a tenable argument, if we extend Foley’s presser metaphor about the SEC’s family, that Gainesville is the aunt being asked to sacrifice the most for the good of the family as a whole. (There’s also an argument that Foley betrayed that aunt, if you want to be extraordinarily uncharitable to him.)
But there’s nothing you and I can do to change those macro-level factors at this point.
What we can do is patronize those businesses that will be hurt by this.
So I’ll suggest this: If you were planning on going to the Presbyterian game, keep your hotel reservations — or, hey, call and cancel them and get better, there-isn’t-a-football-game-in-town rates — and visit Gainesville anyway. Go to Burrito Bros., or your favorite independent establishment, to watch the game, and spend the money you saved on your third-quarter Gatorade on the drinks that bars make profits on and tips to eternally underpaid servers.
No, Hurricane Matthew didn’t strike Gainesville, and relief in its wake ought to be directed to the places that need it most. By my eye, that’s probably Haiti, where hundreds were killed and hundreds of thousands affected by winds and rain that caused lethal mudslides. If you want to donate to Haiti-focused relief, Doctors Without Borders and Hope for Haiti are both excellent choices. If you want to donate to Hurricane Matthew relief efforts in general, the Weather Channel has a fine rundown of options; I’d consider the Red Cross and Direct Relief from that list.
But Hurricane Matthew has affected Gainesville, because moving events that generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Gainesville community out of town will have affects that might well change lives, too. And we can do something about that.