That idiom has reverberated in my mind for several days now as the drama unfolded surrounding the fate of the LSU-Florida game. In this case, it sure felt like there was some 'ducking' going on in Florida.
I was very vocal last week about the obstacles Hurricane Matthew would present to playing the game at its scheduled time in Gainesville. As early as 3:35 Monday afternoon, I expressed concern about the possible impacts of Matthew to Gainesville.
We all know the end result by now. The game has been 'indefinitely postponed'. I was ready to jump out of the debate until I read a couple of things this weekend. Frank Frangie with Gridiron Now penned a piece saying LSU media was embarrassing itself with coverage of the decision, calling out seasoned reporters Glenn Guilbeu & Ron Higgins, among others. Then I read an article by Dennis Dodd with CBS Sports saying reaction to the game postponement has been appalling, with much of his disdain seeming to point toward Baton Rouge.Trivial in the grand scheme of things but @LSUfootball will have to monitor #Matthew. IF it went to FL, impacts in Gainesville poss by Fri. https://t.co/dHyUASkNkJ— Steve Caparotta (@SteveWAFB) October 3, 2016
In a situation like this, it's no surprise that people in Baton Rouge are seeing things very differently from those in Gainesville. And if we're all being fair to each other, both sides likely have some valid points. However, for those in Florida and the rest of the country who think we are insensitive to a major hurricane striking the Sunshine State, let me outline a few key points, followed by a detailed timeline of how the weather threat unfolded.
Key points from the LSU fan side:
- A realistic threat to Gainesville from Hurricane Matthew became apparent as soon as Monday afternoon, or 5 days before the scheduled game. Shouldn't that have provided plenty of time to work on contingency plans?
- Contrary to popular belief, this was not a selfish ploy by LSU fans to have the game moved to Baton Rouge. The majority I know simply wanted it played. Whether that was in Gainesville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Mobile or here in the Red Stick. Home field advantage if the game was moved here? See the South Carolina game from the 2015 season when LSU was undefeated and had the Hesiman front-runner. Paid attendance was 42,058 and most believe the actual attendance was quite a bit lower.
- Florida's stubbornness and flat out arrogance with the "game will not be moved out of Gainesville" message certainly didn't go over well here.
- LSU is a program that moved a game to Arizona State in the wake of Cat. 3 Hurricane Katrina, delayed a game until Monday night after Cat. 3Hurricane Rita, and pushed up the start time of a game before Cat. 2 Hurricane Gustav.
- Louisiana people are absolutely not insensitive to what Florida residents were facing. We've been through it multiple times. Baton Rouge and surrounding areas went through hell this summer (Alton Sterling shooting, shooting of multiple law enforcement officers, biblical flooding). We get it.
4 PM CDT Monday (5 days until scheduled game, 4 days until predicted impact)
Gainesville falls within the forecast cone of Hurricane Matthew for the first time. That should have started to sound some alarm bells.
|Forecast track for Hurricane Matthew issued at 4 PM CDT, Monday, Oct. 3, 2016.|
10 AM CDT Tuesday (4 days until scheduled game, 3 days until predicted impact)
The National Hurricane Center says the probability of Gainesville experiencing sustained tropical storm force winds is 49%. That was a significant increase from the 31% probability given in the 4 PM Monday advisory.
4 PM CDT Tuesday
The official forecast track shifts closer to Gainesville. In fact, it's roughly 100 miles closer than 24 hours before, indicating a major hurricane just east of Gainesville within 24 hours of the scheduled kickoff. Again, this is TUESDAY.
Forecast this time yesterday had closest approach of #Matthew ~200 miles from Gainesville...now closer to 100 miles. #lsu pic.twitter.com/QjmjcBR4rT— Steve Caparotta (@SteveWAFB) October 4, 2016
In this same advisory, the National Hurricane Center warns for the first time of the challenges in forecasting a storm that is expected to parallel the coast. In my mind, the added uncertainty is all the more reason to make a contingency plan for the game.
4:47 AM CDT Wednesday (3 days until scheduled game, 2 days until predicted impact)
10:30 AM CDT Wednesday
Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain, appearing on the SEC weekly teleconference with coaches, jokes about hosting the game at their indoor facility when asked about possibly moving the game. Forgive LSU fans if they found it a little disingenuous 24 hours later when McElwain and Athletic Director Jeremy Foley were justifying the decision to cancel by saying it was done out of concern for their people. The tone coming out of Gainesville in the early part of the week didn't seem to be one of concern; it came across as arrogance.
11:10 AM CDT Wednesday
Florida announces in a tweet there is still no change to the status of the game. I really thought the Tropical Storm Watch would force a decision by this point. I was wrong.
Still no status change for #LSUvsUF on Saturday. We expect to have another update after 5 p.m. today.— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 5, 2016
3:50 PM CDT Wednesday
The University of Florida announces campus will close on Friday due to Hurricane Matthew.
UF main campus will close Friday, Oct. 7, due to Hurricane Matthew. More info will follow. Go to https://t.co/qE8GKp3Xtv for updates.— UF Alert (@UFAlert) October 5, 2016
4:00 PM CDT Wednesday
Florida defiantly announces, "The game will not be moved out of Gainesville." This announcement is made 10 minutes after it is announced campus will be closed on Friday. It's also announced at the same time a new forecast is released by the National Hurricane Center. That forecast calls for a Category 4 hurricane to be just southeast of Gainesville by Friday afternoon.
So the threat is real enough to close campus but not real enough to make a decision on a football game? It was clear that the window to consider alternate scenarios for playing the game was quickly closing, if not already closed.
10:37 PM CDT Wednesday
Tropical Storm Warning issued for Gainesville, indicating that tropical storm force winds are likely. Check out the National Weather Service forecast for Friday, indicating "strong and damaging winds...gusts up to 65 mph". And at this point, Florida was telling everyone they still planned to play football in Gainesville less than 24 hours later. Again, can you blame LSU fans for questioning the sincerity of Jeremy Foley or the leadership (lack thereof) of Greg Sankey at this point?
2:50 PM CDT Thursday (2 days until scheduled game, 1 day until predicted impact)
The SEC releases a statement announcing that the LSU-Florida game is postponed. In it, Commissioner Greg Sankey states,
“The developments of the hurricane in the last 24 hours, the projected magnitude of its impact and the unknown aftermath of this storm have resulted in this decision to seek another date to play the LSU-Florida game. We have to be sensitive to the possible imminent disruption to the state of Florida and in particular the Gainesville and surrounding area.”
What developments in the last 24 hours? At this point, the forecast had been pretty steady for 3 straight days in forecasting a major hurricane near the Florida coastline on Friday. The differences in the tracks shown below are minor when margin of error is considered.
|Comparison of official forecast tracks for Hurricane Matthew from the National Hurricane Center.|
Sankey went on to make a similar statement about changes in the forecast in a phone interview with Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on Saturday. Come on, man. This is about as consistent of a forecast as you will get with a hurricane.
All along, I was absolutely in favor of the game not being played in Gainesville on Saturday. And while Baton Rouge certainly could have hosted, if that was off the board, an alternative neutral site certainly could have done the job. But if none of those options, why not push the game back to Monday in Gainesville and if things end up worse than expected, cancel the game at some point over the weekend?
Here's one other thing to note, you've heard LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva be pretty adamant in multiple interviews that they bent over backwards to offer as many options as possible to play the game with Florida. Have you heard anyone on the Florida side or with the SEC deny anything Alleva has said?
So, I'll say it again.
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.