The approaching hurricane means extra waiting for Florida and FSU, but USF still plans to play football Monday.
By BRIAN LANDMAN and ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published September 3, 2004
As Hurricane Frances roared through the Bahamas and headed toward Florida on Thursday, college football teams throughout the state canceled and postponed games and made alternate plans.
The ballyhooed Florida State-Miami game set for Labor Day evening at the Orange Bowl was moved to 8 p.m. Sept. 10, bucking ACC tradition but preserving a national telecast.
Florida's season opener against Middle Tennessee was postponed until Oct. 16. But USF, which hosts Pittsburgh at 4:30 p.m. Monday, still plans to play.
"My mind-set is we're playing," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "Our guys are geared up and ready to play. It's all we're thinking about."
News of FSU-Miami didn't change Leavitt's plans, and he noted during his weekly radio show that its postponement would mean "a lot more television sets" tuned in to watch the Bulls' first of four nationally televised games this season.
USF said both schools will monitor the hurricane's progress and a final decision is expected Sunday morning. If the game cannot be played Monday, it likely would be rescheduled for Dec. 4.
Meanwhile, Thursday's game between Jacksonville and Florida International in Miami and Saturday's Gateway Classic between Bethune-Cookman and Savannah State in Jacksonville were canceled. And Hampton and Jackson State moved their game Saturday from Orlando to Virginia.
Miami and FSU said their decision was easy.
"Our biggest concern is for the safety of anyone who is in the path of Hurricane Frances, and we felt the appropriate thing to do is reschedule the game," Miami AD Paul Dee said in a statement.
"As we've tracked it literally through the experts in Miami and here four or five times daily since Monday morning, it has not dissipated," FSU AD Dave Hart said. "That decision was an easy one when we got to (Thursday)."
Going to Sept. 10 wasn't as simple. ABC officials said the league asked initially about Sept. 11, but the network is committed to a tripleheader, including three region prime-time games.
"We would have gone only to the southeast quadrant of the United States," Hart said after a teleconference with Dee, the ACC and ABC.
The game had been set for Labor Day, when it would be the only prime-time game. The only other alternative for a national telecast would have meant Thanksgiving weekend. But both have said the loser of the opener still has time to play its way into Bowl Championship Series contention. A loss late is rarely overcome.
Although the ACC has insisted it wouldn't intrude on high school football's traditional night, it asked the network about Friday. ABC officials said their entertainment division was agreeable to juggling its schedule, and the league received input from Charlie Adams, the executive director of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.
"That's the next best time, in my opinion, that we could have it," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "Because it's kind of like Monday night. You have the whole night by yourself."
Florida officials tried to wait as late as possible to make the final call, but it became apparent Thursday morning the game could not be played as scheduled on Saturday.
"All week long, you kind of hoped it would turn. But it was pretty evident even as soon as (Wednesday) that it wasn't going to," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "We felt that if we wait until the last possible minute, but then Middle Tennessee State has travel plans. Our fans have travel plans.
"It's evident that it's going to be an impact even if not in Gainesville, there's going to be an impact on this state. And you don't want to clog evacuation routes. It just wouldn't be appropriate to play. It's as simple as that."
The game will be played at noon Oct. 16 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Tickets for Saturday's game will honored. Florida now opens the season Sept. 11 against Eastern Michigan, its latest starting date since Sept. 12, 1992.
Florida and Middle Tennessee had open dates on Oct. 16 and Nov. 27. Gator coach Ron Zook wanted Nov. 27, which is Thanksgiving weekend, because by playing in October, the Gators will go the entire season without a bye week - 11 straight games.
"There's a reason that 117 teams have an open date," he said. "That open date is not in case of this. It's for a reason. But once again, that's the hand you're dealt. I didn't make that decision. That's the way it is, and you go man go."
Foley said he is sensitive to the issue but said under the circumstances, there was "no easy call."
"I just felt that at the end of the day, it was the best thing to do for the total program, the institution and the community, to play on the 16th," he said. "Thanksgiving weekend is a tough time to play, especially a nonconference game or not an FSU game.
"So that decision was made, and it will put a burden on a young football team. But certainly Coach Zook and his staff will get them ready to deal with that."
The game will be played at noon so it can be seen on pay-per-view, Foley said.
Zook has given the team the weekend off. A few players planned to head out of state, but Zook said the majority, particularly those from Central Florida, will stay in Gainesville.
"We're giving them some time off to get them refreshed," he said. "I told them to take some time and don't even think about football the next couple of days. They were disappointed. But in football, there's adversity and things don't always go the way you want them to go. That's the way it is. If that's the hand you're dealt, you play it."
The last time Florida had a game postponed because of hurricane was 1964, when its game against LSU was changed because of Hurricane Hilda, which killed 38 people in Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana on Oct. 4, 1964.
Rays on for tonight
Devil Rays spokesman Rick Vaughn said Thursday that tonight's game against the Tigers likely will be played and a decision on whether to play games Saturday and Sunday will be made today.
Complicating the matter is the potential effect on Tampa Bay's travel plans to New York for a five-game series scheduled to begin Monday against the Yankees.
Meanwhile, the Marlins postponed tonight's game against the Cubs. Florida said no decision has been made about its games Saturday or Sunday or when Friday's game will be made up.
Times staff writers Damian Cristodero and Greg Auman and Times corespondent Zachary Spain contributed to this report, which used information from Times wires.