AP Photo/John Raoux
The SEC’s marquee matchup between Tennessee and Florida will proceed as scheduled, sources told VolQuest.com on Tuesday.
Despite the effects of Hurricane Irma, the No. 22 Vols (2-0) will take on the No. 23 Gators (0-1) at 3:30 p.m. (CBS) in Gainesville, Fla., as SEC officials — working in concert with administrators from Florida, Tennessee and local city officials — determined the city remained viable to host a football game.
“The University of Florida has been diligent in assessing the impact of Hurricane Irma on the Gainesville community and has made a thoughtful decision in moving forward with the game,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement.
“We appreciate the communication, coordination and cooperation among the many agencies and groups necessary to produce a game in a safe environment. Our prayers remain with the people of Florida as well as Texas as they recover from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.”
Irma, then a Category 1 hurricane, hit Gainesville late Sunday evening and early Monday morning, leaving more than half the city without power and debris and flooding scattered throughout, too.
The storm put the game into serious question, but Ben Hill Griffin Stadium didn’t sustain any damage and officials determined the city had enough emergency personnel to handle the event. Florida's home-opener against Northern Colorado was cancelled last Saturday in preparation for the storm.
Both Atlanta and Knoxville were considered as venues for the game, but ultimately, keeping the game in Gainesville was best for all parties.
“While we know how important it is for this campus and the Gainesville community to host a game, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those that have been impacted by the storm, and we are thankful for the support Floridians have received during this time,” UF athletics director Scott Stricken said.
Still, the two schools had to overcome several hurdles to make it happen, as gas, lodging and travel were a concern for both fans and Tennessee’s football team.
The Vols normally stay in Ocala, Fla., before the game, but their hotel rooms were occupied by hurricane evacuees from South Florida, forcing the team to find other lodging arrangements.
“There has been a tremendous amount of cooperation between local authorities, the Southeastern Conference and the Tennessee athletic program throughout this process and we are grateful for these strong partnerships," Stricklin added.
“We appreciate the communication from both our friends in Gainesville and the conference office as this assessment was made,” said John Currie, Tennessee Director of Athletics.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by Hurricane Irma and other recent storms throughout the SEC footprint, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to travel to Florida this weekend.”
On Monday, Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, "I fully anticipate playing the game in Gainesville."