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Scheduling Around Hurricanes in the AAC

With the news of Tulane moving its Week 1 game from New Orleans to Norman due to Hurricane Ida, let’s look back at how AAC teams have historically dealt with these issues.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Tulane Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Before Hurricane Ida hit, every expectation was that Oklahoma and Tulane would still be on campus. Then the storm escalated to a category four storm with winds that were strong enough to stop the flow of the Mississippi River before ultimately knocking out power to the entire city of New Orleans. As for the Tulane football team, they evacuated to Birmingham for the time being, where they’ve been practicing at Legion Field. The student body at Tulane had to shelter in place for the storm.

Ultimately, the storm forced the game to be moved to Norman, Oklahoma, due to damage sustained to New Orleans and consulting with various response teams.

For this game, Tulane is going to be designated as the home team, meaning that they’ll receive the sales from tickets. However, tickets for the game at Yulman Stadium won’t be accepted and new ones will have to be purchased. For those watching on TV, the game is being moved up to a 12 ET kickoff, but it will still be on ABC as they’re the designated home team. The entire Tulane campus is going to be closed until October 11th. It has also been rumored that the football team will be in Birmingham for at least the next month, and future home games could also be moved.

So, that’s where Tulane stands as of right now, after being hit by a massive natural disaster. It’s not an easy situation to handle, but it’s one that they’ve arguably handled as well as you possibly could. But how does that compare to how other AAC teams have handled hurricanes impacting football season in the past?

The unbeaten 2017 UCF team was notably impacted by Hurricane Irma. They had to cancel their game hosting Georgia Tech due to the storm. This also led to the delaying of the Memphis game, which got rescheduled over the Maine game. Memphis had to schedule over Georgia State, of the Sun Belt, costing them a regular season game. Ultimately, Austin Peay replaced Maine as a makeup FCS game. The major difference in how they handled Hurricane Irma from how Tulane is handling Ida, is that UCF didn’t choose to turn this into a road game. The game was cancelled because universities were expected to provide space for disaster relief, and the team couldn’t practice. They, unlike Tulane, did not relocate to practice. USF was not able to play UConn as scheduled due to Hurricane Irma, and instead had to wait until November to play the Huskies. Some shuffling cost USF a game, and both the Bulls and Knights only played 11 games in 2017.

Though Hurricane Irma did not directly impact their campuses, Houston and Cincinnati both had to have games rescheduled due to the storm.

Hurricane Harvey impacted Houston and the coastline of Texas too. The Cougars had to relocate to the University of Texas, in Austin, as their campus was closed. Ultimately, the Cougars would make the decision to cancel their opening game against UTSA. This is interesting, because like Tulane and unlike UCF they found a place to practice the week leading up to the game, so they would hypothetically have been prepared. However, coach Major Applewhite said, “We felt like it wasn’t the right thing to do in terms of where our city is.” The game wouldn’t get rescheduled, and the Cougars only played 11 regular season games.

The next year, there were two major hurricanes to hit the Southeast. Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina and caused issues for a few AAC teams. UCF lost a road game against North Carolina, who cancelled due to the storm. ECU also ran into major issues with Virginia Tech. The game was set to be in Blacksburg, but ECU chose to travel to Orlando for their safety. It was ECU who cancelled the game. Virginia Tech was not pleased, openly complaining that ECU should have waited longer to cancel the game and posting on Twitter about how they played during Hurricane Matthew.

Speaking of Hurricane Matthew, ECU made this decision with the memories of flooding from that 2016 storm in their heads. Hurricane Matthew postponed their game with Navy in 2016. Matthew also delayed UCF and Tulane’s 2016 game, which they made two days in advance falling back on a shared bye week. The decision was easy, though it did make for a unique parallel with the Florida-LSU game, which drew headlines as the ADs fought over whether to play or not.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

So, what exactly is it that we can take away from all of this?

For one, it’s important to realize that there is no one correct way to handle these situations. A hurricane is a massive event and everyone is making costly decisions under high pressure situations. A couple of things are clear, though. The safety of players and students is most people’s top priority, and secondly things are going to get jumbled for everyone involved and even some teams who aren’t involved.

Tulane is handling this is in a unique way from everyone in the conference before them, They’re the only team to move to their opponent’s campus to this point. This will likely have less of a domino effect on other games in an attempt to reschedule, but with the disruption to Tulane’s game week preparation it may cost them on the field.