GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Three Sunshine State universities took steps to salvage home football games as Hurricane Ian approached.
Florida moved its game against Eastern Washington from Saturday to Sunday. Central Florida did the same with its game against SMU. South Florida relocated its Saturday game against East Carolina from Tampa, Florida, to Boca Raton.
Although South Carolina is a safer distance from the major storm, the Gamecocks didn’t want to wait to make a decision regarding their game against South Carolina State. Those schools will now play Thursday night, two days earlier than previously scheduled and at least a day before Ian reaches the area.
Stetson canceled its home game against San Diego scheduled for Saturday in the Pioneer Football League.
No. 23 Florida State and 22nd-ranked Wake Forest, meanwhile, are “closely monitoring” the storm while expecting to play as planned in Tallahassee.
“We remain confident that we will be able to safely host Saturday’s football game against Wake Forest at its scheduled kickoff time,” FSU athletic director Michael Alford said Wednesday.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson was cautiously optimistic.
“It’s one of those deals that you certainly hope that the ACC office makes the right decision,” Clawson said. “And if they don’t, we will. We’re not going to travel down there and put anybody at risk. … Obviously, this is in the league’s hands and Florida State’s hands. We would hope that they make the right decision. But if we feel there’s any danger to our players going down there, we’re not going to go.”
The storm is expected to hit the state’s southwest coast Wednesday. It tore into western Cuba on Tuesday as a major hurricane, with nothing to stop it from intensifying into a catastrophic Category 4 storm before it hits Florida, where officials ordered 2.5 million people to evacuate before it crashes ashore Wednesday.
Universities across the state closed campuses for the week. But football is big business and a much-needed revenue source for many. Playing the cross-country game at Florida guarantees Eastern Washington $750,000, a significant payday for a school with an athletic budget around $17.5 million.
South Carolina State also relies on its “paycheck game” from South Carolina.
“There’s no perfect plan, but we’re trying to put together the best thing for our team at this moment,” South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said.
The Gamecocks last moved a game due to weather in 2016, playing a scheduled Saturday game on Sunday.
The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers relocated their football operations to the Miami area Tuesday in preparation for Sunday night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Buccaneers are expected to practice at the Dolphins’ training complex in Miami Gardens starting Wednesday. So far, there has been no change for the game, which is scheduled for Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
“We are not discussing any potential (relocation) sites,” the NFL said Wednesday in a statement. “We continue to monitor the storm and are in constant communication with the clubs and local authorities. Decision could be made as late as Friday.”
The Dolphins play at Cincinnati on Thursday night. They changed their travel plans for Wednesday and are leaving a few hours earlier than originally scheduled, in anticipation of severe weather.
Also in Tampa, the Rays have other concerns besides clinching an AL wild card. As they opened a three-game series in Cleveland, players and coaches were keeping an eye on the impending hurricane. The Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area was last directly hit by a hurricane in 1921.
“Watching the news, watching the computer,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I know the Bay area has been pretty fortunate over many, many years now, but just thinking about everybody there and hopefully people have done right to prepare and wherever it goes, it doesn’t hit as hard as the speculation.”
Meanwhile, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning postponed preseason games scheduled to be played at home Wednesday against Carolina and Thursday against Nashville.
The NBA’s Orlando Magic called off practice on what would have been their second day of training camp Wednesday, and said their plans for Thursday were uncertain. Forecasters say Orlando – in the central part of the state – could see flooding and, at minimum, tropical storm conditions as Ian nears the coast.