GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain shook his head, let out a gasp and then reeled off some key numbers as he expressed disbelief that anyone would think the Gators tried to dodge playing LSU last weekend because of Hurricane Matthew.
“Nineteen deaths, 2.5 million people without power, families in dire needs,” McElwain said Monday. “Obviously, they don’t know me, they don’t know the Florida Gators, they don’t know our players. Dodging the game? Wow. … How anybody could even think that way is beyond me.”
The 18th-ranked Gators had been scheduled to host the Tigers on Saturday, but the Southeastern Conference postponed the game indefinitely Thursday. No makeup date has been announced.
The way it played out caused angst at both schools.
Florida created a stir by taking the lead Wednesday and saying the game would be played in Gainesville regardless. LSU responded by making it clear it did everything possible to play the game, offering to play in Baton Rouge or fly in and out of Gainesville on Sunday.
The Gators declined both offers, saying it was too difficult to plan a road trip on short notice and there was too much uncertainty about playing in Gainesville after the hurricane wreaked havoc on the state’s coastline.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley got the brunt of the criticism, with some saying he slow-played SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey so the banged-up Gators could get extra time to heal.
“It just shocks me that someone could actually think that way,” McElwain said. “There isn’t much thought that goes behind it to me that somebody would actually think that. And knowing us, that’s pretty crazy to me.”
Florida (4-1, 2-1 SEC) has made it clear that it wants to keep playing the annual series with LSU (3-2, 2-1). The Tigers, meanwhile, have talked repeatedly in recent years about eliminating the Gators as their annual SEC East opponent.
The teams have played every year since 1971. It’s unclear whether the streak will continue in 2016.
Sankey said Saturday that the schools need to “find a way to come together to play a football game and find the best way to do that.”
Nov. 19 works best for Florida.
The Tigers and Gators each play nonconference games at home that Saturday and would need to buy out those opponents, South Alabama for LSU and Presbyterian for Florida. The Tigers would be on the hook for $1.5 million to South Alabama, and the Gators would have to pay $500,000 to Presbyterian of the Football Championship Subdivision.
Doing that would mean the Tigers would lose a home game (and the $3 million it generates) and end the regular season with three consecutive road games in a 13-day span — against Arkansas (Nov. 12), Florida (Nov. 19) and Texas A&M (Nov. 24). LSU athletic director Joe Alleva was adamant Monday that won’t happen.
“One thing we’re going to hold very firm on is we have a home game on Nov. 19 and we’re going to have a home game on Nov. 19,” Alleva said. “We’re not going to change that situation.”
Alleva said he spoke with Sankey over the weekend regarding rescheduling options. Alleva suggested Oct. 29 and Dec. 3, but those dates would require moving the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville or moving the SEC title game in Atlanta. Making either of those changes would be difficult, if not impossible because of existing contracts.
McElwain deferred questions about rescheduling the game to the SEC, which will make the final call.
In the meantime, the Gators are trying to stay focused on playing Missouri (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday after an unwanted bye week.
“We were prepared to play, but you know lives are more important than this game,” Florida center Cam Dillard said. “It’s a game, and you got to think about those lives. You got to think about how many players on our team were affected. You got to think about how many of their family members were in harm’s way and, you know, I feel like that’s what the SEC folks saw and that’s what they took into consideration.”
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org