tampabay.com

UF keeping eye out for storm

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published August 29, 2006


GAINESVILLE - From the moment the NCAA approved the 12-game football schedule, athletic officials in states prone to hurricanes knew it could become a serious problem.

Twelve games in a 13-week regular season take away the flexibility to reschedule any games canceled because of inclement weather. Florida athletic officials have bought a $60,000 insurance policy to cover any potential revenue lost if a game is canceled because of a named storm. Florida earns an estimated $1.5-million to $2-million per home game.

With Tropical Storm Ernesto posing a possible threat to the state, athletic officials joined in on a conference call with Alachua County emergency management officials Monday afternoon and are carefully watching the storm's path.

"We are monitoring the situation with University of Florida officials and the Alachua County Emergency Operations Office," said Greg McGarity, UF's senior associate athletic director for internal affairs. "We'll be involved in every conference call they have, and we'll adjust as the situation dictates."

In 2004, the Gators' season-opener with Middle Tennessee State was postponed because of a hurricane, but both teams had a common open date, and the game was rescheduled.

"I think the 12-game schedule now has really taken flexibility out of the equation," McGarity said.

UF officials learned valuable lessons from the 2004 storm, he said, having formed extensive checklists for each facility and department and establishing backup files and a backup plan if the athletic department was not able to handle operations for a certain amount of time.

"The awareness level that we had in '04 obviously paid huge dividends for us to be able to learn lessons that we didn't have previously," he said.

If changing a game because of poor weather is necessary, the decision will most likely be made Wednesday, McGarity said.

NOW OR NEVER: Urban Meyer said he has a knack for being able to look into a player's eyes and know whether he's ready for game week. With 34 freshmen on his roster, he's eager to see how each responds.

"If all of a sudden a guy starts dropping the ball, he's not ready yet, just because he did good two or three weeks ago," Meyer said. "... It's going to be real interesting to see in person, to see the young linebackers, to see which corner can come in and help us play. ... Tim Tebow has played a lot of football, but he's not played in this place yet. We'll find out as it gets closer."

CHANGES TO THE GAME: With the implementation of new rules regarding the game clock, look for teams to execute differently.

Among the changes: The clock will start on kickoffs as soon as the kicker's foot hits the ball. When the ball changes hands, by kick or turnover, the clock will start as soon as the ball is ready for play, not at the snap.

And when a team is awarded a first down, the clock will start on the ready-for-play signal. It is estimated teams could have an average of 10-12 fewer offensive plays under the rules.

"That's a big change, 12 to 14 plays," fullback Billy Latsko said. "That could do a lot for a team. So we've practiced it a lot during practice, running the play as fast as we can. Hopefully it won't be that big a difference. Hopefully we can minimize it to like five plays."

Meyer said he's not happy about the rules changes.

"We're really upset about that whole deal, very upset," he said. "People are trying to change the game for some reason. So we have a plan in place. ... You're going to see us hurry guys out there, get to the line of scrimmage and get going because we want the plays. We have playmakers, and we want plays. It'll be a little bit of trial and error, but our plan is to uptempo as much as we can."

Meyer said his biggest concern is the distractions the players will face this week, particularly because he considers Southern Mississippi "a tough opener." With so many young players, he said, the team will even practice hard Thursday to make sure the chemistry is where it needs to be.

"With the young players, I'm going to make a concerted effort to shelter those guys the rest of the week," he said.

Antonya English covers Florida athletics. She can be reached at 813 226-3389 or english@sptimes.com.