To Play Or Not?

As I write this, Hurricane Ivan is making its terrible presence known on the beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, complete with 135 miles per hour winds and torturous storm surge. By the time you read this, Ivan will probably be well inland.

Mal Moore, it's your move.

Over the next two days, The University of Alabama athletics director faces one of the tougher decisions a leader can face.

Play football in the aftermath of what could be one of the worst disasters in Alabama history, or postpone the Crimson Tide's Saturday matchup with Division I-AA Western Carolina and muddle the schedule of what is an improving football team?

Tough call.

Today and Friday, Hurricane Ivan will sweep over Alabama, causing untold damage to property all over the state, possibly loss of human life and probable power outages to hundreds of thousands of customers. Some 170,000 were out of power by 2 a.m., and hundreds of thousands more should join them later today.

Smartly, Moore and UA's powers-that-be decided to ride out the storm and make a final call on the game Friday.

Alabama officials will meet Friday morning with Tuscaloosa police, UA police, the Tuscaloosa Emergency Management Agency and Alabama Power to make a final decision on playing the game.

What will face them is anyone's guess. Ivan could strip power from the Tuscaloosa area–including Bryant-Denny Stadium–and drain valuable game resources, including a security and police presence.

Some roads could be made impassable both by debris and evacuees returning home by the thousands to see if anything is left of the lives they've built for themselves on the coast.

Times like these make one wonder: does football tie the state together in times of crisis, or is it an afterthought when people are picking their lives out of a pile of shingles, broken windows, and warped storm shutters?

Alabama football is the closest thing to a religion in these parts, but this week, people have prayed to a much higher power.

All the contributing factors make Moore's decision especially tough.

"I didn't get in this to be a weatherman," he quipped Tuesday, the closest anyone has come this week to making the storm humorous.

Options are many, but few of them are good ones.

One is moving the game to a Saturday afternoon kickoff or Sunday afternoon kickoff.

Another is playing the game as scheduled at 6 p.m. Saturday night; Moore said Tuesday that The University had secured some "pretty powerful" generators. But if the rest of campus and town are minus power, getting in and out of Tuscaloosa could be nightmarish for 83,000 people.

If the game is postponed, it's anyone's guess when it'll be played. Alabama's only open date before season's end is October 30, but Western Carolina has an epic Southern Conference clash at Elon scheduled that day.

That's right–Elon, of all teams, could affect Alabama football.

And you thought the Mike Price scandal was bizarre.

Western Carolina could conceivably shuffle its schedule and play October 30, but if it can't, the only potentially available date is November 27–the week after the Iron Bowl.

And it is entirely possible that the Catamounts will be involved in the Division I-AA playoffs then, although that's no guarantee considering they play in one of I-AA's toughest leagues.

That means playing this weekend is very important to both sides. Moore said Tuesday he wants to play the game, and the Catamounts are arriving by bus Friday afternoon, meaning they can plan their route to avoid Ivan's remnants.

Which brings us back to the question: can the game be played?

Whenever the game is played, Alabama will likely win, and win easily.

But it is best for both sides to play the game Saturday, if it can be done with all due respect to the hurricane's victims and those who will be suffering its wrath over the next several days.

Moore and the officials who advise him on the decision must take all due care when making the call. If the game is played before a mostly empty stadium, it could look like a slap in the face to those who are recovering from Ivan's wrath–and those who simply can't get to the game.

It would be a public relations disaster for an athletic program that simply doesn't need one, a gaffe on the level of Bill Curry pulling his team away from a game at Texas A&M threatened by Hurricane Gilbert–and watching the hurricane leave sunny skies in College Station on game day.

That's the decision facing Moore now.

Good thing he decided to wait–he's going to need every moment he can spare.

Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat reporter for the Birmingham Post-Herald and writes this weekly column for BamaMag.com


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