Florida football coach Jim McElwain said his team wanted to play against LSU last weekend, regardless of rumors circulating around that say otherwise.
In the days since the Southeastern Conference decided to indefinitely postpone the Florida-LSU game due to the impending threat of Hurricane Matthew, the Florida program, McElwain and UF athletics director Jeremy Foley have been called out for being scared, holding out until the last minute on Thursday to avoid a matchup and potential loss against LSU.
To McElwain, those accusations are ludicrous.
“[There were] 19 deaths [in the United States], 2.5 million people without power. Families in dire needs,” McElwain said. “Obviously, they don’t know me, they don’t know the Florida Gators. They don’t know our players.
“Dodging the game? Wow.”
At the time of the decision, Gainesville was projected to be hit by the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew on Friday afternoon. The storm shifted east late Thursday and early Friday, leaving Gainesville with minimal damage.
“I'm grateful that thing decided to not take a tick and come the way it could have,” McElwain said, “and yet the amount of devastation still is really incredible.”
Florida players had mixed emotions when they found out they weren’t going to play. Their competitive nature set in, but they understood the situation at hand. More than 50 players on Florida’s roster are also from areas on Florida’s east coast that were under a hurricane warning throughout the weekend.
“We came here to play teams like LSU, but it was bigger than a game last weekend,” said quarterback Luke Del Rio, who is expected to return as Florida’s starting quarterback this weekend against Missouri. “It wasn't about a football game. It was about the safety and the health of my teammates' families and families of Floridians and everybody across the east coast really [and] down in Haiti.
“Football seems so trivial when you look at the big picture and you see people are dying. Football can come after that."
And, according to the SEC, football will come.
Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a phone interview Saturday on CBS that the Florida-LSU game “needs to be played.”
"This conference often describes itself as a family. A family has points of tension,” Sankey said. “I certainly understand the angst and frustration. 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."
So what are the options to make this football game happen?
The clearest one would be Nov. 19, when LSU plays South Alabama and Florida plays Presbyterian. The non-conference games could be paid off or rescheduled.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has other thoughts.
The Nov. 19 matchup against South Alabama is slated as the Tigers’ final home game. Should it be replaced with a matchup against Florida in Gainesville, LSU will play its final three games on the road, in order, against Arkansas, UF and Texas A&M.
“Our fans, and this city, deserve to have a home game on that day,” Alleva said. “We're not going to give up a home game.”
Two other theoretical options have surfaced, although logistics will make them difficult to pull off. The first requires moving Florida’s Oct. 29 matchup against Georgia in Jacksonville up one week and then playing LSU in that game slot. The second would be UF and LSU playing on Dec. 3 and potentially moving the SEC Championship game back a week.
Regardless, the final decision — just like the decision to initially postpone the game — will come down to Sankey and the SEC office.
“They’ll make the right choice,” McElwain said.