KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee was ready to forfeit to No. 3 LSU if tonight’s game in Baton Rouge had not been rescheduled for Monday night because of Hurricane Rita.
Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said Friday the No. 10 Volunteers were prepared to take such action “if we felt like it would be unfair to our student-athletes and not safe for our student-athletes.”
Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive said Thursday the game would be moved for safety reasons. LSU officials preferred to have the game today or Sunday.
“We will now face significant logistical challenges, but we hope for the continued cooperation of our fans,” LSU athletic director Skip Bertman said. “Naturally our strong preference would have been to play during the weekend, but safety for student-athletes, fans and everyone else involved in a football game was the overriding factor for the commissioner.”
LSU’s season had already been affected by Hurricane Katrina. The season opener was postponed and a home game against Arizona State two weeks ago was played in Tempe, Ariz.
The LSU campus has been used as a temporary hospital, shelter and morgue, and some players have had relatives staying with them to escape the storm and its aftermath.
“This is another turn in the road for this football team. It’s something that we have gotten used to over the past month,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think we’ll respond very well. The players are excited about getting the opportunity to open the home season on Monday night. I expect our fans to pack Tiger Stadium just as if the game were being played on a Saturday night.”
Rita was headed toward the Texas-Louisiana coast and forecast to make landfall late Friday or early this morning. Baton Rouge was under an inland tropical storm warning through today, according to the National Weather Service.
LSU officials announced Friday that classes and operations will be canceled on Monday, and they expected it would take two days to clean up any debris – such as fallen trees – after the storm passes, according to a statement on the university Web site.
Louisiana emergency officials told the university to expect some evacuees.
Hamilton contacted the SEC office earlier this week to talk about the potential for problems related to the storm. The Vols had planned to fly to Baton Rouge this morning because of a lack of hotel rooms. Now they will travel Monday morning.
When Rita’s path turned more to the north and east, Tennessee pushed harder for a change.
Hamilton did not want to put off making a decision until Friday because a group of student managers and trainers was scheduled to travel to Baton Rouge by bus Friday morning.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was against having the game today and advocated moving it to the end of the year.
“I wasn’t going to get on a plane and take our kids to into a dangerous situation. If I wouldn’t (with) my children, why would I send my other children?” Fulmer said after Friday’s practice.
The SEC checked into making the conference championship game in Atlanta a week later to accommodate a Tennessee-LSU game at the end of the regular season, but there was a scheduling conflict with a convention, Hamilton said.
Tennessee did not favor playing Sunday because the weather could still be a problem. The final option was to cancel the game.
“With the No. 3 team in the country and the No. 10 team in the country, we felt like it was an important game that needed to be played,” Hamilton said.
Playing on Monday means both teams will have less time to prepare for next week’s games. The Tigers travel to Mississippi State while Tennessee hosts Mississippi on Oct. 1.
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