There are a lot of moving parts that go into executing a successful football game day. Athletic departments have to factor in logistics such as travel, lodging, and equipment. The hosting team has stadium staffing, police/security support, ticketing, parking, and more to consider. All of that doesn’t even consider the actual game going on, where student athletes leave it all on the field as coaches try to outwit each other and earn victories to help them keep their jobs.
Ok, maybe that last sentiment is a bit dramatic, but you get the idea. Sporting events have a not insignificant number of factors that need to be taken into account to make them happen.
Now throw weather in.
Virginia Cavaliers fans got a little glimpse of what the elements can do week one when the season opener against Richmond was delayed due to lightning in the area. Fans weren’t allowed to enter Scott Stadium due to rules in place regarding storms and sheltering in place, leading to long lines and some missed game action when it finally got underway. The pre-game festivities—again, for the season opener—were truncated and there was grumbling via social media from spectators stuck outside waiting to enter the stadium.
That’s all fair. Did UVA handle it properly? Maybe. I’ve had to evacuate lacrosse games at Klöckner Stadium for lighting more times than I can count. It sucks, it’s a pain in the ass, your seat gets wet, and it’s just an all around blah experience. It’s also the right thing to do.
So, this week, multiply all that by a million as Virginia prepared to host the Ohio University Bobcats with Hurricane Florence making her way towards the eastern seaboard. South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia have all declared states of emergency. With the storm threatening flash floods and unknown quantities of rain Thursday through Sunday, the Virginia athletic department decided to act quickly, creatively, and smartly regarding the Cavaliers’ matchup with on Saturday.
We’re going to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, y’all.
As Assistant Athletics Media Relations Director Vince Briedis pointed out on Twitter, this is Virginia’s first regular season neutral-site game since 1989 when they played Notre Dame at the Meadowlands.
Said Virginia’s athletic director Carla Williams:
“Our top priority is the safety of everyone involved and I appreciate the understanding of our fans. We’re extremely grateful to Vanderbilt University and vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletics director David Williams for graciously supporting our efforts. We look forward to returning to Scott Stadium for the Louisville game on Sept. 22.”
On today’s ACC Coaches Teleconference, Bronco Mendenhall complimented the support staff and administration making the move happen.
UVa's Bronco Mendenhall says he didn't specifically pick Vanderbilt as a #Florence back-up site, but he was open to a neutral site place (not in Ohio somewhere) without a lot of travel. Administration worked out Vandy as the site.— SportsChannel8: The Tweets (@SportsChannel8) September 12, 2018
Williams has a history with Vanderbilt University after having worked for the Commodores before her stint at Georgia that preceded her hiring at Virginia. Vanderbilt football is on the road this weekend, playing No. 8 Notre Dame in South Bend, which makes this whole scenario possible.
According to Coach Mendenhall, cancelling was also an option, but they wanted to figure out a way to make it all work if possible.
It was an option to cancel the game, but he really wants the young people on the team to succeed, grow, and develop. He feels a sense of urgency under his stewardship to give them that chance.— Streaking the Lawn (@STL_UVA) September 12, 2018
There are, of course, things one could be frustrated with from this decision. Losing a home game, missing out on seeing the Hoos play, and potentially losing sunk costs when it comes to tickets or hotels are all valid things to shake your head at here (although if you bought your tickets through Virginia, you can get a refund).
Possibly, they could have cancelled then rolled the dice about availability of teams on their bye week or tried to schedule it for December 1. There’s no chance they schedule a make-up game the day of the ACC Championship game (Dec. 1), effectively conceding they have no shot to play in it. Sure, it’s a long shot, but why count yourself out? As for Ohio—a contender in the MAC—their championship game is November 30, so that doesn’t really work for them either.
There’s no perfect scenario when the situation is this imperfect.
But the fact of the matter is this: the safety of the players, fans, and staff (whether those work at the stadium, work for the police or security for games, or work for the team) is PARAMOUNT in this situation. Everything else comes second.
There is a very real possibility that it drizzles or barely rains on Saturday afternoon as the Hoos (hopefully) handle Ohio in Tennessee. There is also a possibility that it ends up raining in Nashville for the game. That is perfectly fine and doesn’t diminish the decisions made by Dr. Williams and the UVA and Ohio staffs. If the storm doesn’t hit Charlottesville as hard, then guess what? That’s a good thing for the community. They avoid a potential life-threatening storm and can focus on aid efforts for those that are affected.
The actual weather at the stadiums on game day—whether in Charlottesville or Nashville—is inconsequential at this point. What’s important is that no disaster relief resources (namely personnel) are going to be pulled away from places that need them in the wake of Hurricane Florence. As a bonus, we still get Virginia football!
Storm models and weather are unpredictable by nature, but Virginia assessed the information on hand, made a timely decision, and acted on it with the safety of the student athletes leading the way. Well done, Hoos. Now, go get the win.