After being stalled by Hurricane Irma last week, Swamp life can finally begin for the Florida Gators.
Florida’s game with Tennessee will go on as scheduled in The Swamp with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday, the SEC announced Tuesday.
The decision was made by Florida after consultations with the SEC and state, local and UT officials in the aftermath of this past weekend’s storm.
“The University of Florida has been diligent in assessing the impact of Hurricane Irma on the Gainesville community and has made a thoughtful decision in moving forward with the game,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a news release. “We appreciate the communication, coordination and cooperation among the many agencies and groups necessary to produce a game in a safe environment. Our prayers remain with the people of Florida as well as Texas as they recover from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.”
UF’s scheduled home opener against Northern Colorado was canceled last Thursday in anticipation of the hurricane and the impact it was already having in the state. It will not be made up.
The decision to play Saturday’s game against Tennessee as scheduled was made after an assessment of the impact the storm had on the UF campus and the area and an evaluation of facilities and the personnel resources to go ahead with the game.
“While we know how important it is for this campus and the Gainesville community to host a game, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those that have been impacted by the storm, and we are thankful for the support Floridians have received during this time,” UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said.
“After meeting with the City of Gainesville, campus officials and numerous staffing entities to discuss hosting the game, we are pleased that the Florida-Tennessee football game will take place in Gainesville Saturday as scheduled.”
UF coach Jim McElwain will not be available for comment until after Wednesday’s practice. But it’s no secret that he and the players wanted to play this game, and play it in The Swamp, after losing to Michigan two weeks ago and losing the chance to rebound a week later.
Just last season, the Gators lost a home game when their Oct. 8 game against LSU was postponed due to the threat of Hurricane Matthew. The game was eventually rescheduled, but UF had to cancel a home game against Presbyterian on Nov. 19 to travel to Baton Rouge.
After Irma inflicted great damage on a massive portion of the state and roared through Gainesville on Sunday night and early Monday morning, leaving downed trees, flooded streets and thousands without power, there was a possibility that Saturday’s game would be moved to a different location, possibly Knoxville or Atlanta.
But after assessing the situation, the decision was made to play the game as scheduled. Stricklin said the final decision came down to manpower.
“Mainly, the question was whether or not the campus and the city could support the game,” Stricklin told The Sun. “Did we have the police and the staff to do it? We felt like we did.
“With the cancellations last year and this year, people are ready for a football game.”
Stricklin said one area that may be a little thin is traffic control and encouraged fans to arrive at the game early.
“It’s the first game and it’s bigger than normal,” Stricklin said. “Usually we have a game to work the kinks out.”
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell supports the game.
“We recognize that our staff are going to be fatigued and we’re making efforts to get them some rest before the game day but it’s important to our community, it’s important to our state, it’s important to us looking forward and moving forward,” she said. “Enjoy it and recognize that it’s a blessing and something we can pull together in a positive way and don’t add any extra burden on law enforcement, public safety, stay hydrated so you don’t stress our rescue and emergency medical personnel and basically just enjoy the day.”
UF did an assessment of all its facilities Monday and found no significant damage to Florida Field, other than some signage that came down in the storm.
So, The Swamp is ready to go. And so are the Gators, who are eager to get their home season going after last week’s cancellation.