GAINESVILLE, Fla. — No. 22 Florida canceled its home opener against Northern Colorado on Thursday, two days before the game, because of impending Hurricane Irma.
"As the hurricane's track has approached the state of Florida, it's become obvious that playing a football game is not the right thing to do," Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin said. "The focus of our state and region needs to be on evacuations and relief efforts. There is a tremendous amount of stress currently on the roads of this state, and the availability of gas, water and other supplies are at critical levels.
"Playing a college football game Saturday would only add to that stress."
The game will not be made up since the schools do not share a common bye week.
Officials initially moved the start time from 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday to noon in hopes of getting people back home safely, but Stricklin said it became clear that getting to and from the game would create more problems for a state preparing for a Category 5 hurricane.
"Gainesville is also close to some of Florida's heaviest traffic points this week, specifically Interstate 75, which is a key statewide evacuation route," he said.
This is Florida's second game in as many years affected by a hurricane. The LSU-Florida game in 2016 was postponed a month and relocated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, because of Hurricane Matthew.
Stricklin said moving the game against Northern Colorado to Friday night was discussed, but would not have alleviated the concern of creating more traffic to already stressed roadways and gasoline resources.
The Bears had initially planned to fly commercially to Tampa on Thursday and then bus to Gainesville. Florida officials arranged to have them charter a flight to Gainesville on Friday. The Gators also gave up hotel rooms in Gainesville so more would be available to hurricane evacuees.
"When you look at the impact this event could have, you have to sit back and realize what's really important in life," Florida coach Jim McElwain said. "In this case, we're doing everything we can to help facilitate with what may occur. We've got a lot of kids whose families are in the state of Florida and down south. Our thoughts are with their families, first responders and any individual that may be impacted."
Three other Saturday games in the AP's Top 25 involving Florida schools were also canceled Thursday. No. 16 Miami was scheduled to play at Arkansas State, and No. 21 South Florida was scheduled to travel to Connecticut, but the teams ability to return afterward was doubtful.
Late Thursday, No. 10 Florida State announced that it would cancel its home opener against Louisiana-Monroe. On Wednesday, FSU had rescheduled the game to noon Saturday; originally it was scheduled as a night contest.
FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel that the school has provided assistance to players’ families in need of transportation to evacuate, but a list of players was not specified.
“The NCAA has allowed us to help some of the families out of there that didn’t have the resources to get them out — some of the kids and children — which we have gladly done, and will do,” Fisher said.
“This is a football game. That’s life and death, and very critical. It can be very disturbing, but our guys have handled it very well.”
Florida Atlantic's game at No. 9 Wisconsin is still on; FAU was able to charter a larger plane to carry its coaches' families to Madison, Wisconsin, while players who were not scheduled to travel with the team were sent home. UCF's game at Memphis was rescheduled for 4:30 p.m. MDT Friday. FIU's scheduled home game in Miami against FCS member Alcorn State was moved to Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, with a scheduled 5 p.m. MDT kickoff.
On Wednesday, the NFL announced that the game between the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers scheduled Sunday in Miami had been rescheduled on Oct. 11.
Florida universities and schools will be closed Friday through Monday, under an order signed by Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday. The storm had already forced major high school schedule reshuffling; Broward County in South Florida played its Friday night football contests on Wednesday, while Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties postponed all contests scheduled for Wednesday through Monday. In Central Florida, Volusia, Seminole, Polk and Orange counties in Central Florida played Thursday. In the Florida Keys, athletic events at Monroe County schools were suspended indefinitely starting Wednesday.