Because of the impending threat of Hurricane Matthew, the Southeastern Conference announced Thursday afternoon that No. 18 Florida’s game against LSU that was scheduled for Saturday has been postponed. The decision came after nearly 48 hours worth of discussions between the two schools and the SEC.
“The storm event late [Wednesday] afternoon took a turn and took another turn last night and again [Thursday] morning. … What we have here is a very, very significant event,” UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said at a press conference Thursday.
The SEC said in a release it is working to reschedule the game for later this season, but there is no guarantee.
Should the game not be rescheduled, it will be the first time since the 1970 season that Florida and LSU will not play a regular-season contest.
“The timing of this storm on a Friday and the uncertainty of its aftermath in the ensuing days make it particularly difficult to project the conditions for the remainder of the weekend, as well as the opportunity for travel of teams and fans to or from Gainesville and other cities in Florida,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a release. “I am appreciative of the cooperation of our universities on this matter.”
Alachua County is expected to be hit by the outskirts of Hurricane Matthew on Friday, at which point the storm is expected to be a Category 4 storm. Tropical storm force winds (39 mph) are expected to be felt in Gainesville starting around 11 a.m. Friday and continuing until 5 a.m. Saturday, according to a press release from the city. There is also an 80 percent chance that winds could reach up to 58 mph by 5 p.m. Friday.
“It made it impossible to play this football game here in Gainesville Saturday or Sunday,” Foley said.
It’s a move that is supported by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who wrote a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday urging Scott to intervene and make UF change either the time or location of the game.
“UF’s decision endangers the safety and well-being of not only the players of UF and LSU, but also the fans, coaching staff, stadium workers, police, emergency medical technicians, and a host of other people who will have to travel to and stay in Gainesville if this game is held there,” Vitter wrote.
This marks the first time since the 2004 season that a Florida football game was affected by a hurricane, when the season opener against Middle Tennessee State pushed back to mid-November because of Hurricane Frances.
“Here’s one thing I think that we lose sight of. I mean, this is something that could be devastating,” UF coach Jim McElwain said Wednesday. “It’s already been devastating in other countries, right? And we get so wrapped up in the importance of an SEC game on a Saturday. … Believe it or not, and I know some people will disagree with this, but there are some pretty important things out there in life that don’t concern third-and-6, you know?”