With one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in history about to bear down on South Florida, leaving millions scrambling to prepare, CBS college football analyst and former major college coach Rick Neuheisel went on ESPNU radio to declare it “suspicious” that the 16th-ranked Miami football team (1-0) canceled its Saturday game at Arkansas State (0-1).
Meanwhile, UM football players and other athletes — some with children of their own — had dispersed to be with their families. Dozens are from South Florida, and others flew home to various states.
UM officials ordered a campus-wide evacuation on Thursday, the first time in history for the school.
“All of our student-athletes, not just the football players, were dismissed yesterday so they could be with their families and prepare for the storm,” UM senior associate athletic director Carter Toole said on Thursday.
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Neuheisel, whose former Washington Huskies lost to Miami 65-7 in 2001 after handing the Canes their lone loss, 34-29, at Seattle in 2000, said he didn’t think there was “anything wrong with being very safe,” but that FAU, “which is sitting there in Boca, is traveling to Wisconsin this week” and mentioned FIU moving its home game with Alcorn State to Birmingham, South Florida traveling to Connecticut, UCF playing on Friday night and the Gators having moved up their Northern Colorado game to noon.
Later Thursday, the Gators announced that they were canceling their game in Gainesville.
“As the hurricane’s track has approached the state of Florida, it’s become obvious that playing a football game is not the right thing to do,” UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said in a statement.
Also on Thursday, USF announced it will not play its game at UConn. “The safety and well-being of our students, staff and coaches is our paramount concern,” USF AD Mark Harlan said. “…I believe it is not appropriate for our team to travel at this time.”
And late Thursday night, FSU announced it, too, has canceled its game against Louisiana Monroe.
As the hours passed, Neuheisel’s theory seemed more ridiculous.
“I get it,” Neuheisel said of UM’s situation, “but this is suspicious. You don’t want to play the game, and they’re not making it up … to just say you’re not playing, especially when it’s not in Miami. If the Miami Dolphins were on the road this week, they’d be playing in the NFL. … I understand safety, and I’m going to defer to the calmer and wiser heads that know the path of Irma, but this to me looked like you didn’t want to play the game.”
If Neuheisel’s words seem insensitive, an unsigned column on AStateNation, Scout.com’s Arkansas State-related website, took it up several notches and said the game should be forfeited by Miami.
“I am all for safety and putting life ahead of football, but it is crass to use those as an excuse to avoid playing a game you don’t want to play,” the column began. “Miami, once a program vaunted for its willingness to play anyone, any place, is using Hurricane Irma to avoid traveling to Jonesboro to play Arkansas State after the Red Wolves lost at Nebraska when the potential game tying or winning touchdown went off the fingertips of Kendrick Edwards.”
Hurricanes coach Mark Richt clearly was not happy with Neuheisel and the negative media reports. On Thursday night, Richt posted on Twitter, “Very sad to read some of the comments of some football fans and some members of the media believing we had some other motive! U Family!!’’
Added Richt: “Nor have [we met] as a team or a staff. The safety of our players and staff and the ability for them to be w/Family is our priority! To set the record straight we have not practiced since Tuesday and we won’t til everyone gets back in town after this CATEGORY 5 hurricane!”
The Hurricanes have not practiced since Tuesday and are scheduled to play No. 10 Florida State (0-1) in Tallahassee on Sept. 16. But depending on the storm effects, that game also could be in question.
Either way, the Hurricanes appeared grateful that they didn’t have to worry about their families in the middle of a football game.
“Woke up being thankful,” defensive end Demetrius Jackson tweeted, “that we didn’t travel to Arkansas during this serious and Prayerful time. My mom and Brothers are my priority.”
“If anybody wants to play, it’s me and my brothers,” receiver Braxton Berrios tweeted. “You guys can’t fathom the work we have put in to get 12 changes to be great,” adding two minutes later, “But to put this one game in the same conversation as this deadly natural disaster when discussing importance … is baffling.”
Tight ends coach Todd Hartley said via Twitter that it was “Scary thinking that we could’ve been in Memphis while our families fended for themselves in SoFla! Thankful 4 the decisions that were made!”
Despite the disdain by some, certainly not most, fans and outside media, Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen and his coach seemed to keep things in perspective.
“There was a lot of excitement going into it,” Hansen, who threw for 415 yards against Nebraska, said on Wednesday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. “But you kind of find out quickly that the world’s more than just about football.”
And this, from ASU coach Blake Anderson, when asked, per the Democrat-Gazette, if he thought ASU’s near-upset of Nebraska played into Miami’s decision:
“I can’t imagine what it’s like having that kind of storm coming at us,” the coach said. “We don’t have to deal with that coming at us. I find it hard to believe that a top-20 team in the country has got a problem coming to play us.”