GAINESVILLE - Florida announced on Wednesday that its game with Idaho, called off after one play last Saturday after two delays due to lightning and bad playing conditions, will not be played this season.
The Gators and the Vandals both had an Oct. 25 open date but both teams will be in the middle of conference schedules and it’s the last open date of the season for Florida -- which would have had to play nine straight weekends.
Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley and Idaho athletic director Rob Spear have agreed the game will declared a no contest and that not rescheduling the game is the only viable option for both programs.
The two schools, however, have agreed to schedule a game in Gainesville for the 2017 season on a date to be determined later.
“We looked at a number of options and, in the end, we both thought it was in the best interest of our student-athletes and football programs to play out the remainder of our respective schedules as they stand,” Foley said.
Florida will fulfill the terms of the contract between the two schools and pay Idaho its $975,000 guarantee on Feb. 1 as per the deal signed in 2009.
“I want to thank UF, especially AD Jeremy Foley, for the professional and first-class way they worked through this issue and the focus on student-athlete welfare,” Spear said. “It was not in our best interest to play 10 consecutive weeks without a bye week. We look forward to our return to Florida in 2017.”
All fans who purchased a ticket through the Gator Ticket Office to the season opener vs. Idaho will be given a full refund of the single-game ticket price that they paid for the game. This includes all Gator Booster and UF Student Season-Ticket holders, single-game, group and mini-plan ticket holders who purchased through GatorZone, those who called, visited, mailed their order in to the Gator Ticket Office or those who purchased through the TicketMaster Exchange site. The regular ticket price for the Idaho game was $25, the student ticket price was $15 and group ticket pricing varied.
All fans who used a credit card to purchase their tickets will automatically be issued a refund back to the credit card that was originally used for the transaction by Sept. 8. Any fan who purchased tickets in advance of the game on Saturday and paid with cash or a check will receive a refund check in the mail by Sept. 22. Fans who purchased tickets with cash the day of the football game will have until 5 p.m. on Sept. 30 to contact the Gator Ticket Office at (352) 375-4683, ext. 6800 to inquire about their refund.
“Like all Gators, I wish we could have played the game Saturday night, but I support the decision made by both Athletic Directors,” Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. “As I said earlier this week, our focus is getting our players and team ready for Eastern Michigan and we are excited to get back out there in front of our passionate and loyal fans.’’
The last time the Gators played an 11-game regular season was 2005. The NCAA added a 12th regular season game on a permanent basis for BCS schools the following season.
Florida last had a game postponed in 2004 due to Hurricane Frances but it was played the following week. That was also against Eastern Michigan _ which the Gators face this weekend. Saturday’s game will be the latest UF has opened a regular season since the ‘04 delay (opening Sept. 11 that year).
Gators defensive end Dante Fowler said there was a big letdown not playing the opener that night. There’s a weather forecast for rain again this weekend.
Florida had to change practice on Tuesday because of lightning as well.
“It’s just a lot of stuff built up in you ready to get out,’’ Fowler said of the first game. “So you know we’re just going into this week hoping it doesn’t happen again and just be able to take everything out on Eastern Michigan.’’
Added linebacker Michael Taylor: “Out at practice (Tuesday) I got mad, because I’m like dang, I can’t take anyone to the ground. You don’t want to unleash on your teammates, so it’s just like when I finally get out there, pray for them. That’s how we all feel, because we’ve got some stuff to let out. It’s been a while, so we’re just ready to take the field.’’
Saturday’s game had an opening delay 2 hours, 48 minutes because of lightning. The SEC does not allow play when there are lightning strikes within 8 miles of the stadium.
When the game finally did start at 9:50 p.m., the Gators’ Valdez Showers returned a kick 64 yards to the Vandals’ 14 on the only play of the game. The game was stopped after the return and the game was finally called at 10:38 p.m. after the second delay because the field was ruled unfit to continue.
While Florida players were disappointed at not playing the opener many agreed the playing conditions could have been unsafe.
“From the morning, waiting in the hotel all day, to leaving in the hotel, and then waiting in the stadium all the way through kickoff and all the extra time, it was pretty rough,’’ Gators offensive lineman D.J. Humphries said.
Defensive back Jabari Gorman: “I wouldn’t say it hurts (losing a game on the schedule), but I mean for the young guys to get the experience of being able to go out there and play at the highest level, that’s probably the only difference.’’
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel notes SEC play doesn’t start until next week so there’s still plenty of time to get ready.
“Some teams play SEC games in their opener,’’ he said. “Coming out of camp we felt that we were ready to play whoever that may have been. Obviously we were prepared for Idaho. Whoever our opponent would’ve been we would have had the same game preparations for them. They say you make your best improvements
from game one to game two. We’ll still have one game before we get into our SEC schedule. No matter how your schedule lines up, you have to be ready to go. There’s no excuses.’’
Muschamp said dealing with weather was just a fact of life when you live in Florida. During a six-hour span last Saturday there were 1,100 lightning strikes within eight miles of the stadium. Muschamp noted earlier this week that there was a strike after 12:30 a.m. game night, so even if the game had picked back up it would have been hit with another 30-minute delay late in the night.
“This time of year in Florida there’s a bunch of lightning so we’re constantly in and out of practice and shutting things down and having to move meetings up, move meetings back, practice, we’re kind of used to that,’’ Muschamp said. “That’s part of what we do as a staff and players. It’s just what it is so that’s nothing different.’’
Taylor said this team is more more mature and better prepared to deal with the strange circumstances Idaho brought and is prepared to deal with similar circumstances if they happen again.
“No matter when we went out, we were going to be ready and be ready to go out and take the field and get a W,’’ he said. “The maturity is definitely there, the focus is definitely there because of the way we prepared during the fall and the spring. We’re a much closer group. When you have people fighting for something together, it’s a lot stronger than for people just fighting for something individually.’’