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Playing Gators vs. LSU last Sunday better than current choices

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For those who think the Florida Gators wanted to use Hurricane Matthew as an excuse to avoid playing LSU last weekend, think again. Despite dealing with injuries, the Florida program would hotly deny they were reluctant to literally tackle the Tigers.

Some pundits, and many in Tiger Nation, believe Florida’s actions reveal a fear of playing LSU right now. After all, LSU made two offers to play the game, including moving the game to their cozy confines.

To his credit, Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley nixed that idea from the get-go. The Gators played there last year, and the decision to keep the game in Gainesville was made while Matthew was days away.

LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva points out that in 2005 his school moved a home game to Arizona State after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Here is a prediction: had Florida been playing a non-conference game against a Power 5 non-conference school (like Arizona State), the game would have had a better chance of being moved. Moving an important SEC game is another matter.

LSU also suggested the game be played Sunday (in Gainesville), to which the Tigers would fly in Sunday morning and return home after the game. This was the better suggestion of the two, but Florida officials rejected that idea as well.

That is when the accusations of cowardice started to pick up steam. Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain was incredulous.

“Nineteen deaths, 2.5 million people without power, families in dire straits,” he said, referring to the effects of Matthew. “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.”

Here is another little tidbit not filtering into this ‘fraidy cat accusation. What about Leonard Fournette?

The Tigers’ star running back, one of America’s best, was not going to play in Saturday’s game due to an ongoing ankle injury. The best time to play LSU would be at home and to play them without Fournette.

Sure, Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams combined to run for 293 yards and six touchdowns against Missouri two weekends before, but one fact is undeniable. LSU is a better team with a healthy Fournette — and his only contributions against the Gators were going to be as a cheerleader.

While the charge of avoiding LSU is a bit of a stretch, reasonable people can point to the fact the game could possibly have been played Sunday. Not an ideal scenario (hotel rooms, etc.), but possible.

The Gators can counter with the fact that thousands of their fans were suffering and would be unable to attend, or watch the game. Still, severe weather happens in Florida and with the remaining schedule for both schools presenting a challenge, some outside-the-box action was needed.

While few need to be convinced the players and coaches were ready and confident to face LSU, a better explanation for why the game could not be played Sunday is needed. Florida Atlantic somehow moved their game to Sunday and the visiting team, Charlotte, was coming from an area also hit by Matthew after it left Florida.

There are two apparent scenarios for playing the game. One involves both schools buying out home games Nov. 19 and the other has LSU coming to Florida Oct. 27.

Alleva says the first choice is not going to happen. The Baton Rouge economy is battered and needs every home game to help them recover from the summer floods.

To make the second one a reality, Florida would need to figure out what to do with the annual clash in Jacksonville with Georgia. That, too, is a non-starter.

The SEC is in a bind. It is difficult to see how this game will be played. That will be a big hit on the Gainesville and Alachua County economy.

Playing Sunday was a far better choice than anything available now.

 

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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