GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain said he hopes the Gators’ game Saturday with Northern Colorado gives fans a chance to take their mind off the serious concerns about the impending impact of Hurricane Irma.
Florida announced earlier in the day that it was moving the game up from 7:30 p.m. to noon Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Irma is currently a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds maxing at about 185 mph, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center on Wednesday afternoon . Irma is the strongest hurricane historically in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, according to their records.
Based on the projected path , which could still 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.
“You sit back and you take a breath and you kind of realize the things that are really important in life,” McElwain said after practice Wednesday. “And in this case, doing everything we can to help facilitate what we can for what may occur and the preparation, a lot of hard-working people here.”
Florida has given up its rooms at the hotel it normally stays in before home games in the event those beds are needed for evacuees from the southern part of the state.
“We’ll alter the way we do our Friday. That’s the least you can do when something like this has come up,” he said. “You know, I know our guys are looking forward to having the opportunity to play a home game, play in The Swamp, which is a special, special place. You know, hopefully those couple hours of that ballgame can give people a chance to take their mind off of what’s real out there in the world. That’s the approach. It’s not a distraction. We’ve had a lot of distractions and that’s an excuse for nothing.”
Earlier in the day, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said he understood attendance would be affected and encouraged fans to “consider their own safety first.”
The other concern, of course, is having a team fly in and out from Colorado to make this game possible.
Stricklin had said Northern Colorado was flying commercially and was set to fly back Sunday, and he noted that Florida was looking into other options to help the team get back home.
McElwain was asked about viewing the situation from his opponents’ perspective.
“Well, you know, what a great thing for their kids when this game was scheduled,” he said. “… These are things where you get to go and come play in one of the most iconic venues in all of college football. For them I know they have some kids from the state of Florida on their team. I’m sure they have some concerns as well. Knowing their head coach that I obviously got to know when I was back at Colorado State, this guy’s really a good guy and gets it. I know he’s excited for his players to have this opportunity to come play, and yet, he also understands the challenges that all of us are having.”
As for his own players, many of whom come from South Florida, McElwain said the team’s thoughts are with their families. He was not specific in what the program was able to do to support players’ families if they were to need help evacuating or relocating for the weekend. He said Florida would do “whatever we can under NCAA rules.”
Playing the game doesn’t undermine the concern the Gators have for the situation, he added.
“You know, it is a challenge, and yet we have a responsibility. The responsibility is to be a Florida Gator. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. What it means is you’ve got to focus on the task at hand,” he said. “Our guys will come out ready to play. Obviously there’s a lot bigger things going on, and yet you know what, we’ve been through that here already since we’ve been here. A lot of different things that have gone on. That’s all part of the journey is learning how to deal with it.”
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