MIAMI — Fear of the damage that powerful Hurricane Matthew may cause prompted two college football postponements Thursday, and had the NFL plotting just-in-case scenarios for games scheduled in Tampa and Miami this weekend.
A pair of college games set to be played Saturday — LSU at No. 18 Florida, as well as Charlotte at Florida Atlantic — were postponed. The Tigers-Gators game that was scheduled for Gainesville is off indefinitely, and the Charlotte-FAU game scheduled for Boca Raton is now tentatively planned to be played Sunday.
Saturday night’s game that has No. 23 Florida State visiting No. 10 Miami remains on as scheduled, though officials remain somewhat cautious. Saturday night’s Georgia at South Carolina football game was moved to Sunday because Matthew is expected to head that way this weekend.
A major issue with games in Florida this weekend isn’t the weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday, because those days look to be generally fine around the state. It’s whether police, first responders and other key personnel needed at football games that draw massive crowds will be deployed to assist in areas that will take the brunt of Matthew’s wrath.
“This is a potentially catastrophic event for the state,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said, “and public resources need to be employed where they’re most needed.”
Matthew has prompted three FBS postponements this weekend, all in Florida. The Tulane at Central Florida game, which was to played Friday, will be played next month.
Florida State originally planned to fly to Miami on Thursday evening; the Seminoles remained home and now plan to make the trip south Friday. Instead, Miami moved into its home-game hotel ahead of schedule, in part because its campus was closed and classes were canceled.
“Our hope is to be able to play at Hard Rock Stadium,” Miami athletic director Blake James said. “Obviously, things can happen that prohibit that.”
The NFL hopes to play at Hard Rock Stadium as well — the Miami Dolphins are to host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
The metro Miami area was not taking the brunt of the storm, and sunshine is even in Friday’s forecast. But there are things to assess before deciding if the FSU-Miami and Titans-Dolphins games can absolutely be played, namely if it’s safe for fans to be on the roads and whether police departments have the resources to simultaneously handle football crowds and storm-devastated areas.
“As always, our overriding concern is for public safety and not doing anything that will divert important resources away from communities that may be in distress,” the NFL said in a statement. “Consistent with that, we are conducting contingency planning for the Tennessee at Miami game as well as the Tampa Bay at Carolina game.”
Tampa Bay is to play at Carolina on Monday night.
The two other currently active pro teams in the Miami area handled the storm in different ways Thursday. The Miami Heat got out of town on Wednesday for a couple days of practice in Houston, in advance of their next preseason game in Kansas City on Saturday.
“You always err on the side of caution,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can’t leave late in these things. It’s one of the few natural disasters that happen that you have an opportunity to plan for.”
The Florida Panthers practiced Thursday morning, and coach Gerard Gallant said he and his wife were riding the storm out at home after stocking up on provisions.
“Lots of peanut butter, jam, lots of bread,” Gallant said.
FAU said it will assess after the storm clears if Sunday is a viable option to play. For now, FAU’s football team is staying across the state in Tampa, well out of Matthew’s path. FAU’s volleyball team practiced at Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers on the southwest side of the state, which was a hurricane haven of sorts.
FGCU’s on-campus arena was designated by state officials to become a shelter. Many residents from the Atlantic side of the state evacuated west, and the vast majority of hotels on that side of the state were filled to capacity. So FGCU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams took Thursday off, with plans to practice elsewhere Friday.
Some other cancellations and postponements announced Thursday:
— South Carolina’s men’s soccer game in Miami against FIU, scheduled for Saturday, was pushed back to Monday because of travel concerns.
— The Tampa Bay at Florida NHL preseason game, which was scheduled for Thursday and postponed earlier this week, will not be made up.
— Friday’s East Coast Hockey League preseason game in Estero between the Orlando Solar Bears and Florida Everblades was canceled.
— In women’s golf, this weekend’s stop on the Symetra Tour, the IOA Golf Classic near Orlando, was canceled. Next week’s season finale in Daytona Beach remains on schedule.