GAINESVILLE, Fla. — LSU and 18th-ranked Florida will play after all this season, albeit in a different state than originally scheduled, which didn’t leave the Gators entirely happy with the solution.
The old Southeastern Conference rivals, whose game last weekend was postponed by Hurricane Matthew, are now scheduled to play Nov. 19 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
The SEC made the announcement Thursday, ending a week of speculation about what would happen to the game originally scheduled for last Saturday in Gainesville.
The teams had to buy out nonconference opponents scheduled for that Saturday; LSU will pay $1.5 million to South Alabama and Florida $500,000 to Presbyterian.
The arrangement means the Tigers (3-2, 2-1 SEC) will avoid playing three consecutive SEC road games over a 13-day span to end the regular season; LSU was already scheduled at Arkansas on Nov. 12 and at Texas A&M on Nov. 24.. The 18th-ranked Gators (4-1, 2-1) will lose two homes games — about $7.8 million in projected revenue from ticket sales alone — but likely will recoup some of that through insurance.
LSU also agreed to play in Gainesville instead of Baton Rouge in 2017, which gets the Gators one game back. That means Florida will host rivals Tennessee, LSU and Florida State next season. In 2018, the annual Tigers-Gators match-up will return to Florida again, as it normally would.
On Monday, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva insisted his program would not relinquish its scheduled home date on Nov. 19 to play in Florida because he did not believe it was fair to LSU fans and the Baton Rouge area to do so after LSU had made every effort to have last weekend’s game played either in in Gainesville on Sunday or Monday, or in Tiger Stadium.
In discussing his disappointment that the game was not played last weekend, Alleva essentially expressed consternation over the fact that Florida held out for a Saturday game in Gainesville last week until Thursday, when the storm’s track made it too late to do anything but postpone the game to another week.
Meanwhile, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley was candid about his university’s displeasure with the resolution.
“LSU was never a true partner in our discussions,” Foley said. “The Southeastern Conference offered some other solutions and the LSU administration made it clear that they were unwilling to consider other reasonable options.”
Alleva responded, “It was our wish to have played the game last weekend, but all options that we put on the table were declined.
“Historically, we have always enjoyed a great relationship with Florida,” Alleva added. “I hope that we can all learn from this experience and as a league, be in a better position to deal with these situations in the future.”
Since the postponement, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said he saw it as important for all sides to find a solution to play the game this season to avoid a scenario where two teams in the conference play one fewer SEC game than every other team in the league. Had that been the case, Sankey said, he would have ruled LSU and Florida ineligible to win their respective divisions — the Tigers in the West and Gators in the East — because they had not played the requisite eight conference games.
“Each university had its own set of concerns throughout this process, however existing SEC regulations did not provide an avenue to resolve conflicting issues in a more timely manner,” Sankey said in a written statement Thursday. “As I have repeatedly said, this game needed to be played. In the end, I want to give credit to the University of Florida for making concessions to move this year’s game to Baton Rouge.”
In addition, Sankey noted, the presidents and chancellors at conference schools have “established the expectation” that existing conference policy will be revised to better define the process for completing postponed or interrupted contests, and to give the SEC commissioner authority to decide dates and locations of future games that need to be rescheduled if the two programs involved fail to mutually agree on such matters.
LSU is no stranger to having games rescheduled and moved because of natural disasters. In 2005, LSU moved a home game to Arizona State because of Hurricane Katrina and delayed a home game against Tennessee by two days in response to disruptions caused by Hurricane Rita. Last season, LSU hosted a game originally scheduled at South Carolina because of flooding in the Columbia, South Carolina, area.
In Louisiana, several columnists and sports talk-show hosts expressed cynicism over Florida’s indecision as the hurricane approached, and questioned whether the Gators preferred an indefinite postponement because it could improve their chances to win the SEC East and allow extra rest for a slew of injured key players.
Florida coach Jim McElwain scoffed at the notion he didn’t want to play LSU last weekend.
“As I’ve said all along, we will play anyone, anywhere, anytime,” McElwain said Thursday. “I’ve made that pretty clear. The Gators never run from anyone or dodge anyone.”
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.