After much negotiating and even more posturing, LSU-Florida will be played. The SEC announced Thursday Gators-Tigers will indeed be played Nov. 19 as many speculated, with the venue moving from Gainesville to Baton Rouge.
“It was important for us to come to a resolution. Each university had its own set of concerns throughout this process, however existing SEC regulations did not provide an avenue to resolve conflicting issues in a more timely manner,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “As I have repeatedly said, this game needed to be played. In the end, I want to give credit to the University of Florida for making concessions to move this year’s game to Baton Rouge.”
While the real losers here are the student-athletes at South Alabama and Presbyterian, who will not be paid to go away and miss an opportunity to play in one of college football’s seminal venues, it’s clear LSU AD Joe Alleva beat Florida AD Jeremy Foley at the negotiating table here.
Let me explain why.
From the very moment he could, Alleva made it clear LSU was going to play a home game on Nov. 19. The opponent may be South Alabama, it may be Florida but, either way, the Tigers would play their Senior Day inside Death Valley West as scheduled.
“We are going to have a home game on Nov. 19,” Alleva flatly told Sports Illustrated on Monday.
Alleva’s case was clear — after the devastation, literal and emotional, Baton Rouge has gone through over the back half of this year, it was not going to lose one of its precious seven home games. Not this season. Not with residents still displaced from the historic flooding deluged upon the city.
ESPN.com ran this story today:
BATON ROUGE, La. – Brandon Landry’s Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar made $125,000 in sales on the day of LSU’s last home game against Missouri. Add Friday and Sunday revenue and it was nearly a $200,000 weekend for the popular eatery, which as Landry says is just a 7-iron shot away from Tiger Stadium.
So don’t dare to tell Landry — much less his employees who budget around expected earnings from LSU’s seven home football crowds — that the solution to the LSU-Florida commotion is for LSU to simply cancel its Nov. 19 game against South Alabama.
“Some of our staff members, they really depend on game days toward the end of the year,” Landry said. “They’ve been busting their tail during some of the dry months of the summer waiting on football season, and it’s only six or eight days of those big football games. And when you kill one, that’s a big portion of what they’ve been depending on.”
Even in a normal year, canceling a scheduled game would be a blow to local businesses. But after one of the worst floods in U.S. history struck the Baton Rouge area in August, taking a home game away from the city would be exponentially more harmful.
So, yeah, Alleva drew his line in the stand, and Jeremy Foley crossed it.
Foley won the messaging war in the immediate aftermath, taking a shot at Alleva in a move stereotypically reserved for the Big 12 and not the SEC.
“The conference office asked us to find a solution in working with LSU, yet LSU was never a true partner in our discussions."–Jeremy Foley
— Scott Carter (@GatorsScott) October 13, 2016
In addition to Jeremy Foley taking a shot at LSU, SEC office thanked Florida, the Sun Belt, Karl Benson, Presbyterian. Did not thank LSU.
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 13, 2016
But while Foley may win the press conference and Florida can use insurance policies to be made whole financially, the fans that support UF and the businesses that depend on it don’t have that luxury.
Hurricane Matthew already cost the Gators one home game, and now another has been lost to this high stakes and very public game of Chicken.
@Andy_Staples big losers are season tix holders. Glad i paid for 7 games, got 5, minus the best one. Horseshit.
— Alex Ciasca (@FLAkiteGATOR) October 13, 2016
Instead of 7 home games in 2016, Florida will have 5: UMass, Ky, N. Texas, Mizzou, S. Carolina. Not ideal for CFB economy in Gainesville.
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) October 13, 2016
Florida can argue they won the war here — the Gators will have three SEC road games next year, to LSU’s five. But Foley’s inbox and phone line are surely jammed with Gainesville merchants wanting to know why, exactly, they’ll only have five football Saturdays this season, and its coaching staff will have to get by with one less recruiting opportunity while trudging forward in an imminently winnable SEC East (remember: Tennessee and UF are tied in the standings, and the Vols host Alabama on Saturday) with an extra road game added to their plate.
And just because Alleva won today doesn’t necessarily mean his coaches did. Ed Orgeron’s path to keeping his job now includes a November of Alabama, at Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M. And next year’s road slate calls for trips to Knoxville, Tuscaloosa, Oxford, Starkville, College Station and now Gainesville.
The SEC, LSU and Florida forged a reluctant compromise on Thursday. And it’s clear who compromised with who.