BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Florida's visit to LSU this weekend — for what was supposed to be a Gators home game — is the result of an acrimonious stalemate last month over what to do about an impending natural disaster.
Southeastern Conference officials hope to avoid having the rescheduling or relocation of future league games handled the way LSU and Florida did it during Hurricane Matthew — not just because of the logistical headaches and divisiveness it caused, but also because it has become an unwanted story line in the SEC East Division title race.
No. 21 Florida, which needs a victory to clinch the East, was supposed to host LSU Oct. 8. Instead, the Gators must now travel to Death Valley for 16th-ranked LSU's "Senior Day."
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday that discussions are expected to begin during the next conference athletic directors meetings in December about how to refine the process of rescheduling games that need to be delayed or moved, with the aim of producing recommendations which will be forwarded to university presidents for approval. Currently the conference commissioner lacks authority to unilaterally make a scheduling change. League rules dictate that rescheduling must be agreed upon by both schools, forcing Sankey to serve as a mediator.
"The presidents have made clear to me their intention to address our regulations and bylaws in order to establish a clear path to a decision-making process that gives the commissioner's office authority to resolve scheduling issues in a fair and timely manner," Sankey said in an email to The Associated Press. "We will use the Hurricane Matthew experience to analyze our processes and to provide clarity to our regulations and bylaws in order to address future interruptions that may be caused by weather or other circumstances."
Florida only agreed to play at Tiger Stadium after Sankey made a determination that was within his authority — to disqualify from SEC championship contention any school that fails to play the eight league games called for by conference rules and regulations. That made it clear that the Gators would be disqualified if the game wasn't rescheduled somewhere, essentially forcing outgoing Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley to give in to LSU athletic director Joe Alleva's demand that LSU retain a home game on Nov. 19, when a visit by South Alabama was originally scheduled.
Both teams bought out the non-conference teams they were previously slated to host this Saturday, clearing the way for Florida's visit to Death Valley.
Gators cornerback Jalen Tabor conceded it'll be "a little" tougher to beat LSU on the road.
"We love playing in the Swamp, but we've got to go over there, one of the toughest places to play in all of college football," Tabor said. "It's going to be a tough challenge."
While the Gators are unbeaten at home, they're 1-2 in other SEC stadiums. And if they lose Saturday, that opens the door for Tennessee to emerge as East champs if the Volunteers win their remaining league games.
The Gators aren't getting much sympathy from the Tigers or Volunteers, either.
"I was excited. It's an opportunity for us," Tennessee defensive end LaTroy Lewis said, adding that it "definitely" caught his attention when Florida was forced to play in Tiger Stadium.
"As a competitor, I couldn't ignore it," he said.
When asked if he empathized with the challenge Florida coach Jim McElwain faces in having to prepare his team for an additional road game in order to win a division title, LSU coach Ed Orgeron responded, "No," and then grinned while several around him chuckled at his blunt honesty.
For now, McElwain isn't complaining. It wouldn't help if he did — not this season, anyway.
Top college football programs "understand it really doesn't matter about who or when or where," McElwain said Wednesday. "It's really all about the now, no matter what."
Yet, while McElwain withholds criticism of the way rescheduling and relocation was handled during and after Matthew, he said he sees the wisdom in trying to refine policies and contingencies in the event of future postponements.
"Smarter people will put something together, figure out something that makes it right," McElwain said. "It's amazing when some things that you don't ever really kind of think of come up that are totally out of your control. I'm not talking this situation, I'm talking in general, that we better maybe do something about this should it ever come up again.
"But they'll do it right. I've got total trust in the SEC," McElwain added. "It's a quality organization led by a guy that knows what the heck he's doing."
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org
AP Sports Writers Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, and Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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Posted on Wed, November 16, 2016
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer