Due to the impending threat of Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm in the Atlantic that is likely to hit Florida by the end of the week, the Gators announced Wednesday afternoon that their home football opener against Northern Colorado will be moved up to a noon kickoff.
A live stream of the game can be found on the SEC Network+.
The game was originally scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“We have worked closely with campus and regional authorities over the last 48 hours to find the best possible solution that allows us to play the game and takes into account the safety of our fans, players, staff and personnel working the game,” Athletics Director Scott Stricklin said in a release. “With tropical conditions possibly expected in our region on Saturday night or Sunday morning, moving the game from 7:30 to Noon will give people a chance to come to the game and return home before any expected weather or effects hit our area.”
Florida’s athletic department sent out a release on Tuesday saying it has officials monitoring the storm but did not have an official update on if the game will be played, rescheduled or canceled.
Now, it’s official.
Irma has grown into a Category 5 storm with sustained winds maxing at about 185 mph, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center on Wednesday morning. Irma is the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
Based on the projected path, which could vary over the next couple days, the storm is expected make landfall in Florida at some point Sunday. Gainesville could start experiencing tropical storm-force winds as early as Saturday night.
Florida coach Jim McElwain on Wednesday said school and athletic department officials have been monitoring the storm since Monday. He also said the team gave up its hotel that it uses during home game for those who might need to evacuate to Gainesville or seek additional shelter.
“How important is a game when you’re talking about people’s lives?”McElwain said. “… Obviously playing in The Swamp is a special, special thing, but whatever happens, we’re going to do what’s best not only for our team but for the university and obviously the residents of the state of Florida.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a State of Emergency for all 67 Florida counties and said at a news conference on Tuesday that Irma “has the potential to devastate this state. You have to take this seriously.” Scott also ordered all 7,000 members of the state’s National Guard to report to duty on Friday.
Hurricanes and severe weather have impacted the Florida football season before. Last season, the Gators had to reschedule their home game with LSU due to the impending threat of Hurricane Matthew. Florida ended up playing the game in Baton Rouge, La., a month later. Florida also had its season opener in 2004 against Middle Tennessee State rescheduled for its bye week because of Hurricane Frances.
“As I tell our guys, all we can control is what we’re doing right this second,” McElwain said. “Let’s prepare and be ready and adjust when needed.”
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