Wicked winds blow college scheduling awry

American Football on Outdoor Field at the 50 Yard Line

Everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it.

The old adage holds true for sports administrators, whether preparing for hurricane or a snowstorm.

This past weekend, Hurricane Matthew sent ADs, coaches and facility personnel to their Magic 8-Balls to figure out what to do with scheduled events — from football to volleyball to soccer on the East Coast.

As the hurricane pushed its way past Cuba and off the Florida coast millions of residents had to determine whether they would evacuate or ride out the storm. Grocery stores looked like locusts had ravaged the aisles.

But one of the biggest factors impacting whether or not a game would be played, postponed or rescheduled was the role first-responders had in both events.

“This is a potentially catastrophic event for the state,” said Florida AD Jeremy Foley, “and public resources need to be employed where they’re needed most.”

Gators were scheduled to play LSU in Gainesville and the SEC is left figuring out when that key contest can be rescheduled around open dates or by pushing back the conference title game.

These sorts of weather events happen often, just not at this scale. Mark Simpson, assistant commissioner for public relations for the Big South Conference, said they and all conferences work with the individual schools to figure out what options exist depending on the sport and opponent. For conference member Charleston Southern, whose game against Albany State was postponed, they would work with the impacted schools to reschedule if it were a conference opponent.

“Our main concern is to reschedule a conference game,” Simpson said. “As much as they’d like to reschedule, Charleston Southern’s game (against Division II Albany State) may just fall off the books.”

It is difficult for fans to see a sunny field after a storm passes and not think, “Why couldn’t they play today?” Police, firefighters and other key personnel needed at games would likely be deployed helping those impacted by a storm or weather event.

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley urged coastal residents to evacuate early and pointed out that state troopers would be needed for hurricane work, not Gamecocks football games.

“The 100 to 200 troopers that they usually request or need would not be available to them,” on Saturday. The game was pushed back to Sunday and had trooper presence to assist with security.

On a less noticeable scale, weather has more of an impact on spring sports such as softball, baseball and track. The weather is more unpredictable then and rain can wipe out entire weekend series. However, these scenarios are built into postseason plans Simpson said, where if teams play unbalanced schedules because of cancellations or postponements, various tiebreaker scenarios are written into policies to lessen the impact of lost games.

While fan safety is paramount, player safety became an issue as anyone who saw the Notre Dame-N.C. State or Virginia Tech-North Carolina games would attest. Those contests, played in a deluge, meant unsure footing which is a recipe for disaster.

On campus, ensuring the safety of students and student-athletes was the overriding concern. Discussions between the school administration, athletic department administration and campus safety all take place. For the athletic department, it’s not just the events on campus, but ensuring teams on the road can return to a safe place.

During one of this past winter’s snow storms, the Duquesne men’s basketball team spent 23 hours trapped on their team bus trying to get back to campus. While the Dukes made light of it, it was a dangerous situation. Food had to be delivered to the bus. Players tried to push the vehicle out of the snow.

For the Coastal Carolina women’s soccer team, Appalachian State came through, offering fields and space for teams both games the Chanticleers were scheduled to host in Conway, S.C.

But for fans wondering what will happen to the LSU-Florida game, Simpson said the schools will see what they can do.

“They’ll get everyone together, look at the non-conference opponents (Presbyterian is scheduled to play at Florida Nov. 19) and look at what options the contracts have set out,” he said. “They’ll see what can occur and what’s in place. There are smart people who built in contingencies.”

Postponed/impacted football games

  • South Carolina St at Bethune-Cookman: Postponed
  • Albany St at Charleston Southern: Moved up to Oct. 6
  • Charlotte at FAU: Postponed to Oct. 9
  • LSU at Florida: Postponed to TBD
  • Notre Dame at NC State: Played in a deluge
  • Va Tech at North Carolina: Played in a deluge
  • UMass at Old Dominion: Moved up a day
  • Georgia at South Carolina: Postponed to Oct. 9
  • Tulane at UCF: Postponed to Nov. 5

Above: Video courtesy Sun Belt Conference

Kathy Kudravi

Kathy Kudravi is digital director for ASN.