CORAL GABLES, Fla. >> The Miami Hurricanes decided to take the weekend off, the Miami Dolphins were given the weekend off, and many other teams around the state of Florida kept a very cautious eye on powerful and destructive Hurricane Irma as it churned across the Atlantic on a path toward the U.S. today.
No. 16 Miami canceled its game at Arkansas State, in part out of concern that the Hurricanes may get stranded away from home if the storm strikes South Florida. The Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were scheduled to play a Miami home game Sunday, now will get the opening week of the NFL year off and won’t meet until Nov. 19.
No. 10 Florida State and No. 22 Florida moved up their home games on Sept. 9 to midday starts, out of caution. A slew of other events were either cancelled or rescheduled, all in deference to the storm that forecasters believe may start affecting the state by then — possibly as a direct hit.
“This is about what’s best for our students, coaching staff and their families,” Miami athletic director Blake James said, after telling Arkansas State about the decision that wasn’t exactly warmly received. “We’re not confident that we were going to get back after the game and we weren’t going to leave our players stranded somewhere. There’s bigger things than football.”
Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir said his team offered several options to Miami, including moving the game to Sept. 8.
“Ultimately, the Miami administration made the decision not to travel,” Mohajir said.
Florida International is hitting the road, now set to play Alcorn State on Sept. 8 at Birmingham, Alabama. That game was originally set to be FIU’s home opener (and first home game under Butch Davis) on Sept. 9, but Irma forced the switch to a neutral site.
Forecasters aren’t certain what Irma will do to Florida. Forecasts have been fluctuating for the past several days and likely will continue to do so as the storm that has been packing 185 mph winds gets closer to the peninsula. Vacationers — and in some cases, residents of vulnerable areas — have been urged to evacuate the Florida Keys and parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
It’s the uncertainty that has teams guessing, and the Hurricanes said if they were going to err they would do so on the side of safety.
“We made the collective decision that we simply cannot put our student-athletes, coaches and staff in danger traveling to and from contests,” James said.
All Hurricanes teams scheduled to play this weekend, home and away, have seen those contests cancelled.
Florida State and Florida were both going to play night games as their home openers this weekend, with the Seminoles facing Louisiana-Monroe and the Gators playing host to Northern Colorado.
“It won’t affect us until much later in the week,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. “They’re just trying to get it for some of the families to be able to get in and get out of here. … There’s a lot of things that are very important, and a game is very important, but also people’s lives and things like that are, too.”
More football schedule changes may be coming.
No. 21 South Florida’s game at Connecticut on Sept. 9 may either be changed or called off, officials said, and Florida Atlantic’s trip to No. 9 Wisconsin was still on — but there are contingencies in place, if the Owls can’t get home as scheduled.
In other Irma-related sports news:
>> Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida (about 20 miles north of downtown Miami) called off its racing cards from Sept. 7 through Sept. 10. Track officials are tentatively hoping to resume racing on Sept. 13.
>> A four-team tournament for NHL prospects in Estero, Florida (on the southwest corner of the state) was called off. The tournament was to include the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators.
>> The University of South Florida, in Tampa, cancelled a home women’s soccer match against Mississippi State on Sept. 7, and a volleyball tournament that was to include USF, Florida Atlantic, Oral Roberts and Bethune-Cookman this weekend. USF’s women’s soccer game at Florida on Sept. 10 has also been called off.