Scott Stricklin knew Tuesday night the Florida home opener Saturday would be in jeopardy. Jim McElwain knew Thursday morning.
On Thursday afternoon, any hopes of playing the Gator home opener were vanquished under the weight of evacuations.
With the roads clogged with people trying to escape Hurricane Irma and convenience stores looking like used car lots, the University Athletic Association decided to cancel UF’s game with Northern Colorado.
It was the second straight year Florida has lost a home game to a hurricane and the third home game that has been lost in four seasons to a storm.
“We really wanted to play the game, but everywhere we turned it wasn’t a good answer,” said Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin. “As (Thursday) went on, it became more and more obvious it wasn’t going to work.”
Stricklin said that even when it was announced Wednesday that the game had been moved up from 7:30 p.m. to noon, he knew it was still in jeopardy.
“(On Tuesday) I was driving past a convenience store on University and it looked like a valet parking lot,” Stricklin said. “I thought, ‘Oh, wow.’ I knew this was something different.”
McElwain said he had a sinking feeling when he drove to work Thursday at 6 a.m. and saw the congested northbound lane on I-75.
“Our guys really wanted to play the game,” McElwain said, “but when you sit back and think about the people affected and the first responders and such, there really wasn’t much of a choice.”
Florida will now have a Saturday off before facing Tennessee at home on Sept. 16 with only one game of preparation.
“It’s a huge challenge,” McElwain said. “This group has had some tough lessons. It just makes you tougher.”
He and his staff went to work Thursday night on the Vols and will have a rare Sunday practice because Irma is expected to be in the area Monday and the university will be closed.
“Then, we’ll re-evaluate,” McElwain said.
Florida considered several options before completely pulling the plug on the game.
Stricklin called Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs about possibly playing the game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn is at Clemson on Saturday. UF also considered several other cities, including Atlanta.
“But in the end, why would we tell people not to travel and then put our team on the road?” he said.
Another idea — play the game at The Swamp without any fans. But, Stricklin said, it would be difficult to tell fans to stay home but bring Northern Colorado in and say everything would be fine.
UF finally decided late Thursday afternoon to cancel the game with no makeup. The details of Northern Colorado’s guarantee of $625,000 for appearing in Gainesville have yet to be worked out.
“They have been a great partner,” Stricklin said. “We’re going to take care of them.”
The Bears were set to fly to Tampa on Thursday and fly out of Tampa on Sunday, but with Irma approaching Florida found the school a charter that would fly directly to Gainesville on Friday and out immediately after the game.
Stricklin said UF received no pressure from the state of Florida to cancel the game.
Ticket refund information will be communicated to those who have purchased tickets to the game.