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SEC Commish: “The game needs to be played”

Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey has drawn his fair share of criticism after the SEC decided Thursday that the Florida-LSU game would be postponed with the intention to play at a later date. Sankey took to the airwaves Saturday to discuss the decision.

With college football games in North Carolina being played with floods surrounding the area and Hurricane Matthew off the coast and one being played in Miami late Saturday night a lot of questions have arisen about cancelling a football game in Gainesville outright when the weather in the area at the time of kickoff was as pristine as you can ask for.

Sankey took to the air on CBS’s broadcast of the Tennessee v-Texas A&M game and was asked by game analyst Gary Danielson about trying to make up the contest between the Tigers and the Gators.

“The press release we issued on Thursday after a long day and a lot of changes in forecasts and a lot of movement was that the LSU-Florida game would be indefinitely postponed,” Sankey said. “We did acknowledge that we will seek another opportunity to play that game. It’s difficult, I said that in a conference call as we were nearing a destination point, but it’s important to play that game.”

There are all kinds of issues that have to be handled in order for the game to come to pass. It appears that both teams will have to give up a non-conference game to make it happen, that means lost revenue in one way or another. But the conference has champions to crown as well and the loss of a conference game with teams that could be in the mix for that championship could certainly make things dicey as the regular season comes to an end.

“The game needs to be played and we need to find a way to do that,” Sankey said when pressed with that notion. “This conference is often described as a family and families have points of tension. I certainly understand the angst and frustration. I have my own level of angst, but we need to come together to play a football game and find the best way to do that.

With college football games being played in the Carolinas on Saturday and Sunday and one in Miami Saturday night questions have been raised as to why something couldn’t get done somewhere by the end of this weekend to get the game done.

As Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said on Thursday, the unique situation in Florida with the different possible paths of Hurricane Matthew and the timing of the storm left so many questions with regard to personnel  that would be able to run the game and the safety and welfare of all involved, they felt the postponement needed to be called.

“Each of those has their own unique set of circumstances and there is a point at which you need to make some decisions,” Sankey said about the games that did go off over the weekend. “Thursday afternoon that storm was strengthening and was passing north of Miami by projection. Gainesville was well inside the hurricane zone. Emergency personnel were being pulled away. To staff that football game we have to remember that security issues were very different today than they were a year ago. We didn’t know how some of the families would be impacted and we are starting to see stories from that. The University closed early and will remain closed until early Sunday morning. You had a bunch of evacuees moving from the coast and into the Gainesville area.

“A number of those things were different than what we saw in Georgia and South Carolina (playing Sunday) where there is bus travel involved. We could secure a place for the team to stay without displacing evacuees. Emergency personnel were still available to staff the game. We have to understand those things.”

It appears most of the time through last week was spent trying to make the decision about the game being held this weekend. Once the decision was made Thursday to postpone with the intention of playing another time, they have been working on the different scenarios to make it happen.

It is clear that some sort of alternate for the game needs to be made as quickly as possible.

“We spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in crisis management,” Sankey said. “Yesterday was white board day one, and today (Saturday) was white board day two… looking at all the options. There are a number of people that have their own options and we want to make sure we evaluate everything. We would like to move this along as efficiently as possible, but I would be careful not to put a point in time where we have to provide a definitive answer because there are a lot of issues we have to consider. My desire is to play that game.

A November 19 date has been the most popular alternative mentioned. That would require buyouts for two non-conference foes that Florida and LSU play. It would require LSU to lose a home game and then one more consideration is that LSU has a road game scheduled for the following Thursday at Texas A&M.  They are taking everything into consideration and trying to be fair to both squads and really the rest of the conference with any scenario they choose.

“I want to be careful because there are a number of options, so that it doesn’t narrow to just one and there are a number of factors to consider here,” he said.

While Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has been very assertive about getting the game made up, and without regard to the monetary issues involved, LSU AD Joe Alleva has been lamenting that it looks very unlikely that they will be able to come up with a solution. Danielson asked Sankey if he had the final authority to make a call on what will happen. Sankey wants to be more of a moderator here and get things worked out.

“We need to come together, that is the reality,” he said. “We need to come together. I am in a position to lead that effort, but we all have a responsibility because this affects the entire conference.”

It does appear the LSU side of things is the one that has the biggest issues to cross and their angst is justified. There are some considerations with scheduling around that game if played on November 19 that absolutely should be addressed by the SEC and some consolations made, even if it means moving their Thursday game back to Saturday.

That said. the pressure is now on Alleva and he has the ability to make this game happen while he also has an obligation to his program to do what needs to be done to protect it.

It isn’t an easy thing, but neither is dealing with a Category-4 hurricane.

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