Hurricane Matthew forces postponement of LSU-Florida football game; other sporting events in jeopardy

Bryan Llenas reports

 

The University of Florida's scheduled football game against LSU was postponed Thursday due to the threat of Hurricane Matthew, which already has been blamed for more than 100 deaths and is threatening the southeastern U.S. coast.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said LSU had offered to host the No. 18 Gators in Baton Rouge, La. Saturday, but Foley said he did not want the team to travel "through this type of weather."

"I know there will be a lot of opinions about how we came to this conclusion and when we came to the conclusion, but this is the right decision," Foley said, adding that the Southeastern Conference had made the final call on postponing the game. 

It was not immediately clear when the game would be rescheduled. Both teams play nonconference opponents on Nov. 19.

The storm also forced Saturday night's Georgia at South Carolina game to be moved to Sunday afternoon, Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said on his radio show. Meanwhile, the matchup between No. 23 Florida State and No. 10 Miami is still on as scheduled for Saturday night — though officials from both schools say they are continuing to monitor developments and are discussing contingency plans.

Florida State originally planned to fly to Miami on Thursday evening; the Seminoles now plan to make the trip south on Friday, storm permitting. Miami moved into its home-game hotel ahead of schedule, in part because its campus was closed Thursday and Friday and all 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 metro Miami area was not expected to feel the brunt of the storm, which was on a path taking its center farther up the Florida coast.

But there are several things to assess before deciding if the Miami-FSU game could and should go on as scheduled, namely if it's safe for fans to be on the roads and if police — who will likely be needed in storm-ravaged areas — would be able to assist with traffic and other matters related to what will likely be a capacity crowd.

Those questions likely cannot be answered until the storm passes. Hard Rock Stadium is also scheduled to host an NFL game Sunday between the Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins.

The Miami Heat got out of town earlier this week. They practiced in Houston on Thursday, 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."

Matthew was expected to cause widespread damage on Florida's Atlantic coast, and Florida Atlantic — in Boca Raton, an area expected to feel some of the biggest brunt of the storm when it comes ashore in the U.S. — decided to move its football game against Charlotte from Saturday to Sunday.

Further assessments about the viability of playing this weekend will be made once the storm clears South Florida, likely sometime Friday.

Until then, FAU's football team is staying across the state in Tampa.

"Supporting our community, state and region is the current focus of FAU Athletics," FAU athletic director Pat Chun said.

On Wednesday, the University of Central Florida announced its home football game against Tulane would be moved to Nov. 5 from Friday. Further north, Old Dominion University in Virginia moved its game against Massachusetts up a day to Friday. 

Matthew was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane late Thursday morning, with top sustained winds of 140 mph. The storm was blamed for more than 100 deaths in Haiti alone, and officials in Florida urged residents to prepare for what could be widespread and massive damage.

The Florida Panthers, who play home games in Sunrise — directly in the storm's predicted path — were able to practice Thursday morning, and coach Gerard Gallant said he and his wife would ride the storm out in their condo near Fort Lauderdale.

"Lots of peanut butter, jam, lots of bread," Gallant said, listing off some of the provisions that he stocked up on for the storm.

On the southwest side of the state, Florida Gulf Coast's basketball arena in Fort Myers was drafted by the state to become a shelter. Many residents from the Atlantic side of the state were evacuating west, and the vast majority of hotels on that side of the state were filled to capacity.

FGCU's men's basketball team plans to practice elsewhere Friday. Its women's basketball team took an unplanned day off Thursday, with hopes of practicing at a nearby high school this weekend.

Some other cancellations and postponements announced Thursday:

— The Tampa Bay at Florida NHL preseason game, which was scheduled for Thursday and postponed earlier this week, will not be made up. "If you've got to cancel a game, you've got to cancel a game," Gallant said.

— Friday's East Coast Hockey League preseason game in Estero between the Orlando Solar Bears and Florida Everblades has been canceled.

— In women's golf, this weekend's stop on the Symetra Tour, the IOA Golf Classic in Orlando, has been canceled. Next week's season finale for the tour in Daytona Beach remains on as scheduled.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.