Let’s get this out of the way early: Hurricane Matthew is a jerk.
The still ongoing storm has claimed hundreds of lives, billions in property damage and, far less important in the grand scheme of things but top of mind in our neck of the woods, the LSU-Florida game.
After days of clanging their heads together, the SEC, Florida and LSU emerged Thursday afternoon to announce the Tigers’ scheduled visit to Gainesville on Saturday will not happen, and each told a different story of whether or not the game will happen at all.
LSU AD Joe Alleva continued to sing that tune Friday morning. “It’s going to be very difficult,” Alleva told the ESPN Radio affiliate in Baton Rouge. “That’s all I’m going to say about it right now, but the scenarios I see down the road are going to require some serious changing of schedules.”
Alleva has incentive to say that, for reasons we’ll get into in a bit, and it’s a telling comment about just how tricky this situation is for the SEC and commissioner Greg Sankey in particular.
This is the SEC after all, which ranks somewhere between God and breathing in order of importance to its constituents. SEC football games simply don’t get cancelled. But it appears this one might. Let’s discuss who wants this game played and why, along with who doesn’t want this game played and why not.
WHO WANTS LSU-FLORIDA PLAYED
The rest of the SEC, starting with Tennessee.
Tennessee currently holds the SEC East lead with a 2-0 mark ahead of 2-1 Florida. But it’s possible, if not likely, the Vols relinquish that lead with back-to-back games at Texas A&M and home opposite Alabama sandwiched around an off week. (Tennessee heads to College Station without its top two linebackers and with running back Jalen Hurd doubtful.) Tennessee head coach Butch Jones was aware of that possibility when he made this comment on local radio Thursday afternoon.
Butch Jones on @3HL1045 talking Florida-LSU: "They have to play that football game … I know the SEC will do the right thing."
— @GrantRamey (@GrantRamey) October 6, 2016
Surely the SEC would do the common sense maneuver and put a 6-2 Tennessee over a 6-1 Florida team the Vols beat into the SEC title game, right? Not according to the league’s bylaws.
Here's the SEC response to my inquiry about scenarios if LSU-UF isn't made up. So 6-1 UF would go to ATL over 6-2 UT. pic.twitter.com/n4qvQin2hW
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) October 6, 2016
Butch and the Vols would be justified in holding the entire Georgia Dome hostage if this comes to pass.
Sankey’s job is to do two things: get his constituents paid and solve problems.
Faced with a similar scenario in 2005, Mike Silve worked to get an LSU-Tennessee game interrupted by Hurricane Rita from Saturday, Sept. 24 to Monday, Sept. 26. (The Vols famously flew to Baton Rouge the day of the game and won in overtime.) The conference office already moved Georgia-South Carolina from this Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, but, for reasons unique to Florida, the Tigers-Gators tilt could not budge from its Saturday perch.
A path exists for the conference to buy out Presbyterian and South Alabama — scheduled to play UF and LSU, respectively — and reschedule the game for Nov. 19. This is the simplest and fairest solution. And yet….
WHO DOESN’T WANT FLORIDA-LSU PLAYED
LSU… and Florida?
Let’s start with LSU. The Tigers’ objections are obvious. They would give up a home game in return for a November schedule that required Alabama, then back-to-back-to-back road games at Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M. Even if that A&M game got moved from Thanksgiving night to the following Saturday, and even if it put them at a tiebreak disadvantage after playing seven games to everyone else’s eight, you can still forgive them for nope-ing the heck out of that mess. Skipping out on an easy win, $5 million or so in home game revenue — not to mention all the revenue an LSU home game generates for the Baton Rouge economy, and you can bet those merchants have made their thoughts known to Alleva this week — all in exchange for going on the road in the SEC for three straight weeks? The conference doesn’t ask its teams to do that for a reason, so it’s easy to forgive LSU for not volunteering for it.
Now, to Florida. The Gators’ reasons are… less obvious? Gator alum Spencer Hall explains:
Florida can be forgiven for not volunteering for a road game to LSU on short notice — especially since it would require three straight visits to Baton Rouge overall, save for some re-jiggering of the conference schedule — but the Gators are giving up a home game at this point either way. The only unknown is whether or not the opponent is Presbyterian or LSU.
It doesn’t feel right to suggest Jeremy Foley could see far enough ahead in the heat of the moment — or that he’d want to even if he did — for Florida to use a cancellation to backdoor its way into the SEC championship ahead of Tennessee but, still, the Gators do stand to benefit here.
Maybe Alleva is playing chicken with Sankey and Foley. Maybe he’s telling the straight truth. But either way, the game is off until it’s not, and the cancellation of Florida-LSU will have ripple effects across not just the SEC, but the Playoff race as well.
And as long as the game’s off, there exists a possibility where a 6-1 Florida wins the SEC East title over a 6-2 Tennessee it lost to, and plays against a 7-1 Alabama or Texas A&M who won the West over a 6-1 LSU team it didn’t beat.
For the sake of fairness let’s hope that (admittedly remote) possibility doesn’t happen. For the sake of entertainment, let’s hope it does.