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Playing through weather

For Florida Gator football fans like myself, we can probably use an extra day to recover before the next game, after last week’s disastrous loss to Tennessee when we largely showed the world how to ignore math in pursuit of defeat. So the good news we’ll get a full eight days instead of the usual when Florida takes to the field again, this time at home in Gainesville against Eastern Washington, a team that gave up a nice round 70 points already this season to Oregon. So I feel like this week will be better than the last.

That’s probably not true for Florida as an aggregate, with hurricane Ian beginning its onslaught of terror on the state today. It won’t directly hit Gainesville, but it will dump enough wind and rain on campus to make their stadium The Swamp into actually something of a swamp. For that reason, and because Florida home football games are something of a statewide homecoming, the University pushed the game back to Sunday, when we hope and assume we’ll be past the worst of it. For the record, the University cancelled all classes from Wednesday through Friday, so there will be plenty of time to watch film. Assuming there’s power.

The Gators aren’t the only ones to reschedule or move. USF will move their Saturday home game from Tampa to Boca Raton, where FAU typically plays. UCF will stay in Orlando but wait until Sunday. And Stetson, which admittedly plays a much lower level of Division I football, has cancelled its home game against San Diego. A bunch of these schools have cancelled classes and sent students home where possible. Moving up the food chain a bit, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still planning to play their Sunday night home game against the Chiefs, although practice will be in Miami for the time being.

These may seem like afterthoughts given the gravity of the situation at hand, one where millions of people are at risk, property will be severely damaged, and lives are likely to be lost. But if you are in the business of big-time sports in the south, particularly the hallowed institution of college football, you know not everyone sees it that way. It’s a part of the country where people get furious when someone plans a wedding on a Saturday in the fall. So moving a college football game, even by a single day, is a story.

What’s most surprising about the history of football and weather is how little the latter truly impacted the former. There’s been plenty of delays, some shortened games, moving games, but really remarkably few outright cancellations, at least at the highest levels. In fact, outside of labor stoppages, we don’t see any weather cancellations in recent years. There’s a few more in Division I college football, but that’s usually at a place like Buffalo during a snowstorm, when no one really wants to be outside anymore anyway. Even during some of our nation’s most pronounced weather tragedies, like Hurricane Katrina, the vast majority of games were played or made up. You can stop a lot of things in this country, up to an including elections it seems. But do not get in-between the gridiron and a southern football fan.

Obviously, there was a slight recalibration during Covid, when colleges cancelled entire seasons, much less games. Granted, the closer one came to the SEC, the less likely that became. But even the Big-10 condensed its season, something that nearly cost a whole lot of people their job in the name of public health. We hoped we might have learned that human life is still in fact more important than playing out the string. But if we’ve learned one thing in the wake of Covid, it’s that we really haven’t learned a whole lot from living through Covid, other than we like to work from home in sweatpants.

I won’t editorialize about whether we should or should not worry about playing games when a storm rolls in. There’s a clear slippery slope of what’s “acceptable,” for lack of a better word, something that became even more clear in the days post 9-11, when playing games felt almost obscene if not dangerous. It does seem that given the state of the planet, we’re going to have far more, not less conflicts between climate and sports. So think of Saturday as less of the exception and more of the future. Only hopefully in the future, we won’t be coming off a loss to Tennessee.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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