The Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes will open their 2019 seasons with each other — and will, officially, be opening the 2019 college football season, too, with Florida announcing late Thursday that the NCAA has granted a waiver allowing the programs to play the Camping World Kickoff on Saturday, August 24, instead of August 31.
The statement from Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin calling the date chance a “unique and rare opportunity” does not explicitly note ESPN’s desire for a marquee matchup to help launch its season-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of American college football, but it doesn’t exactly elide that fact, either.
“Moving the Camping World Kickoff to Aug. 24 is a unique and rare opportunity that showcases college football, both storied programs, and the state of Florida,” Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. “By mid-August the public is hungry for college football, and America is now going to be able to watch the Gators and Hurricanes in a marquee game a week earlier than usual. I’d anticipate the exposure for the sport of college football, and both schools, to be immense.
”There has been a lot of moving parts over the past few months and we’re thankful for the NCAA, ESPN, Florida Citrus Sports, Miami and College Football’s 150th Anniversary Organization for their cooperation during this process. I’d also like to thank the fans from both schools for their understanding of the date change.”
Miami athletic director Blake James is less coy.
“ESPN approached both UM and Florida with the unique idea to broadcast this matchup as the culmination of a daylong celebration of college football’s 150thanniversary season,” Director of Athletics Blake James said. “After consulting with Manny, we agreed that this would be a tremendous opportunity to showcase Hurricanes football – both our present team and our long, storied tradition – on a national stage.
”I want to thank the NCAA, ESPN, Florida Citrus Sports, CFB150, Inc., and the University of Florida for their cooperation and support throughout this process. We understand that the new game date could affect Hurricanes fans who had already made travel plans for the original game date. We will work diligently with any of those affected to help ensure that they can still attend the Camping World Kickoff and have a great experience.”
And as for the coaches, who just lost a precious week of preparation leading into arguably both programs’ biggest season-opening game ever?
Well, Florida coach Dan Mullen’s statement could scarcely be more generic or terse.
”We are excited to kick off the celebration of 150 years of college football on August 24 in Orlando,” Head Coach Dan Mullen said. “It will be a great showcase for the University, our program and all of Gator Nation.”
And Miami coach Manny Diaz isn’t quoted in Miami’s release at all.
It sure sounds to me like the people worrying first and foremost about selling football might be slightly more pleased with this change than those worrying first and foremost about playing it.
News of the potential for a move was first reported last week, with ESPN’s interest cited as the motivating factor. Stricklin clarified the NCAA’s timetable for a decision as “by the end of this week” by responding to a question on Twitter on Wednesday night.
We expect as decision by the end of this week. Awaiting word from ncaa.— Scott Stricklin (@ScottStricklin) March 7, 2019
And, to be clear, it’s good to have this all ironed out now, rather than have the date remain in flux all year.
But, obviously, this is going to inconvenience fans — likely in the hundreds and maybe in the thousands — who had already made travel plans or hotel reservations in regards to seeing the first installment in the Florida-Miami rivalry since 2013. Per a paragraph that appears in both schools’ releases, there has been work done by both programs to find relief for those fans.
Both schools have had conversations with primary air carriers asking that they provide relief for fans who need to change their plans. In addition, Florida Citrus Sports is in contact with the Orlando tourism and lodging community and will enlist their support to encourage them to accommodate travel revisions prompted by the change.
But it would be an utter shock if zero fans ultimately end up out hundreds or thousands of dollars because of proactive planning for a highly-anticipated matchup, and any fan who ends up having to shell out more money because ESPN decided her team should play at a different time has every right to be incensed by that.
And this specific game moving a week forward basically because ESPN asked programs to jump and they asked how high they had to leap is maybe the best-case scenario for such an instance of the TV tail wagging the dog that is college football. Florida and Miami fans are, by and large, likely to be Florida residents, and somewhat unlikely to be flying to Orlando en masse for this game. It is possible, even likely, that many of the fans who will be in attendance won’t even need lodging, as Camping World Stadium could be local enough to them to drive in and sleep at home. I live about an hour from Orlando, so that’s the case for me — and so this change doesn’t affect me all that much, whether or not I choose to go.
Had ESPN tried something like this for, say, Florida’s 2017 opener with Michigan in Dallas, though, the logistical nightmare would have dwarfed the problems created by this shift. And regardless of the scale of the problems fans now have to deal with based on ESPN’s whims, ESPN establishing as precedent that a marquee game’s date is essentially written in pencil up until five months before kickoff — and schools acquiescing to this wish — is the latest event making clear that college football is coveted television programming first and an athletic contest second — if that.
And it does not take much extrapolation from that fact to find ways in which a beloved sport could be damaged irreparably or ruined because of it.