GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey says the LSU-Florida game, which was postponed indefinitely because of Hurricane Matthew, "needs to be played."
On the phone with CBS broadcasters during the Tennessee-Texas A&M game Saturday, Sankey said LSU and Florida need to work together to reschedule their game.
"Well, the game needs to be played," Sankey said. "And we need to work together to find a way to do that. This conference often describes itself as a family. A family has points of tension. I certainly understand the angst and frustration. I have my own level of angst. But we need to find a way to come together to play a football game and find the best way to do that."
Sankey and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley have been criticized for failing to find a way to play the game, which was originally scheduled for noon Saturday in Gainesville.
With the storm forecast to move up the Florida coastline, the teams and the conference discussed potential options Wednesday and then pushed the decision to Thursday. The Tigers offered to host the game in Baton Rouge, but Florida declined because Foley said it was too difficult to put that kind of trip together "in a day and a half." Foley insisted that until Wednesday night, his staff believed the game could be played Saturday with a later start time. The schools and the SEC had initially agreed to move the game to 4 p.m.
The SEC finally postponed the game Thursday afternoon, and both sides seemed aggravated with how everything played out.
Critics said Foley intentionally delayed the decision because the banged-up Gators needed a bye week and thought Sankey should have moved the game to Baton Rouge on Wednesday. They cited how last year's LSU-South Carolina game was moved to Tiger Stadium because of flooding in the Columbia area. They also pointed to two other Saturday games — Florida State at Miami and Georgia at South Carolina — that remained scheduled despite potential problems from the hurricane.
"We have to remember that security concerns are very different than they were a year ago," Sankey said. "We didn't know how players' families would be impacted. The university closed earlier than thought and will remain closed for the day, Sunday, not 'til Monday morning as they continue to evaluate. And then you have a bunch of evacuees who were moving into the Gainesville area. A number of those things are different than what we saw in Georgia-South Carolina, where there's bus travel involved, we could secure space for the team to stay without displacing evacuees, emergency personnel were still available to staff the game. You have to understand that."
Sankey said there are a number of options being considered to reschedule the game.
One of those is Nov. 19. The Tigers (3-2, 2-1 SEC) and the 18th-ranked Gators (4-1, 2-1) 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 — against Arkansas (Nov. 12), Florida (Nov. 19) and Texas A&M (Nov. 24). Three conference road games in a 13-day span are far from ideal for anyone.
"There are a number of people who have thrown options," Sankey said. "We want to make sure we evaluate everything, but we'd like to move this along as efficiently as possible. But I'll be careful not to put a place in time where we can provide a definitive answer because there are a number of issues that have to be considered. But my desire is to see us play that game."
Other SEC teams want — and maybe need — the game to be played. If not, it could affect both division races down the stretch.
"We need to come together," Sankey said. "That's the reality. We need to come together. I am in a position to lead that effort, but we all have responsibility because this affects the entire conference."
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