Below is the reaction of LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva and head football coach Ed Orgeron to having had this weekend’s game at Florida cancelled. The action starts around the 6:40 mark; fast forward to that if you’re not interested in listening to the reporters babbling in advance.
Essentially, Alleva’s take contains a number of key points…
1. He was put in a position where he couldn’t make any demands about the game, and instead all he could do was beg and plead to get the game in whatever way would be safe to do so. He offered to play it in Baton Rouge either on Saturday or Sunday, he had offered accomodations in Baton Rouge for either day. He offered to have the LSU team plane go to Gainesville and fly Florida’s contingent in. He offered to play the game on Sunday in Gainesville. He was good with a neutral site.
2. Florida turned it all down. Florida insisted the game would be fine at noon eastern on Saturday all the way up until today, when all of a sudden things fell apart. By that point it was too late to find another place to play in time for the scheduled kickoff. And Alleva said there was never a discussion of a neutral site for the game.
3. The league office killed the game today, but during the conference call yesterday no one from the league office offered the slightest word of objection when Florida was intransigent about moving the game. There has been no change in the forecast for the storm’s strength or its projected path, so there should be no reason why anyone should have suddenly had an epiphany about the safety of playing the game in Gainesville this morning.
4. There will now be a lot of talk about rearranging schedules to make the game up, and most of the attention on that score has centered around the Nov. 19 date on which LSU is scheduled to host South Alabama and Florida has a home date scheduled with Presbyterian. Alleva said it would be “very difficult” to give up that game with South Alabama so as to go to Florida, and he’s also said that no one has yet contacted him about doing so.
Orgeron offered what you would expect; he said he was disappointed, and he said it felt like waking up on Christmas morning and finding out there weren’t going to be any presents. But he didn’t opine as to the logistics or politics of the game.
Takeaways from this? A few.
First, LSU should categorically reject any notion of cancelling the South Alabama game on Nov. 19. If it were to be replaced with a road trip to Florida, LSU would be faced with a three-game road swing to finish the regular season in just 12 days – Nov. 12 at Arkansas, Nov. 19 at Florida and Nov. 24 at Florida. Three road games against ranked teams in 12 days is grossly unfair to LSU’s players, its coach who’s trying to get a fair audition for the permanent position to replace Les Miles, and its program at large. That doesn’t even count the $5 million or more in revenue that LSU would lose from exchanging a home game for an away game.
Instead, Alleva can offer two options to the SEC and Florida if they want to make this game up.
Option One is that Florida is scheduled to play its annual rivalry game with Georgia on Oct. 29 in Jacksonville. LSU should suggest, since Oct. 29 is LSU’s open date, that the “cocktail party” in Jacksonville be held on Oct. 22 instead and then the Tigers will travel to Gainesville to make up this weekend’s game. LSU would be giving up a strategic advantage, namely that the open date on Oct. 29 is supposed to be a break before the massive LSU-Alabama game the next week. Both Florida and Georgia have open dates on the 22nd of October. Furthermore, we don’t know that the stadium in Jacksonville would be intact for either date since it looks like Jacksonville is going to have a Cat 4 hurricane passing more or less right over it; who knows what kind of damage that would cause. If the stadium isn’t ready in two weeks it might well not be in three, so the two schools would be venue-shopping anyway; in that event there would be no real difference between Oct. 22 and Oct. 29 if they’re moving the game to an on-campus venue or a neutral site like Raymond James Stadium in Tampa or the Georgia Dome.
Option Two is that LSU will come to Gainesville on the first Saturday in December and play the early game in what would amount to a doubleheader with the SEC Championship Game. That would give either ESPN or CBS a national game of interest that they don’t currently have to offer advertisers with plenty enough lead time to sell it, and both teams will get their full complement of games in 2016. The only wrinkle in this option is that if LSU or Florida is still in the race for a division championship the conference championship game would have to be moved back a week, and as such the FBS playoff selection show would have to be pushed back a week as well. But is that really such an inconvenience in comparison to the possibility that LSU might beat Alabama and lose the SEC West championship for having played one less game, or that Tennessee might lose the East division to Florida, who they’ve already beaten, for having played one more game?
If the SEC or Florida wouldn’t accept either option, then Alleva should consider the question closed.
And if the SEC were to make threats along the lines of LSU having to buy out South Alabama and travel to Florida on Nov. 19 or else forfeit a league game, Alleva ought to ratchet the issue up a notch; namely that any talk of forfeits will be met with LSU then talking to the Big XII conference about participating in its prospective expansion. Word has it that Nebraska is interested in switching back to that conference from their current uncomfortable fit in the Big 10, and a Big XII which adds LSU and Nebraska to its current membership is a considerably improved football league and a lot more prestigious conference overall. There are downsides to LSU switching, of course, but some upsides as well.
Perhaps most importantly, LSU would be able to explore the opportunity of launching its own ESPN-affiliated cable network in the same way that Texas, a current Big XII member, has done with the Longhorn Network. That deal was a 20-year, $295 million monster which has performed rather poorly for ESPN – mostly because Texas’ results on the field have been poor not only in football since its signing in 2010 but also in basketball and baseball in large parts of that time frame. LSU wouldn’t need a deal quite as strong as Texas has in order to compete with its current TV dollars from the SEC.
Also, LSU would gain some better road trips in conference in the Big XII. Say what you want about Waco, Lubbock, Stillwater or Manhattan, Kansas; they’re not worse than Oxford, Starkville or Fayetteville or Gainesville. Austin is better than any SEC trip, Norman is a great college town which is practically a suburb of Oklahoma City and Fort Worth is terrific.
And in football, LSU would find itself with an easier path to a national title than having to slog its way past Alabama on a yearly basis. The Big XII is a perfectly respectable football conference and a considerably better basketball league, but it’s nothing like the grind the SEC West offers. After playing Texas A&M and Ole Miss, West Virginia and Kansas will feel like a Swedish massage every year. And a running back like Derrius Guice could easily become a Heisman favorite if he had the opportunity to run against defenses like Texas Tech and Texas every week.
It’s time to at least publicly muse about switching if the SEC continues to mishandle this situation. LSU has been poorly treated by the conference for years and the handling of this game has been clownish to be charitable – with LSU the major loser.