Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity, addressing the issues Friday of moving the Georgia-South Carolina game in Columbia from Saturday to Sunday due to the repercussions from Hurricane Matthew, said there’s no question this was the right move for the safety of everyone concerned.
McGarity emphasized the importance of making sure that no hurricane evacuees that traveled to Columbia from the South Carolina coast would be displaced in their lodging by football fans and personnel and pointed out the Georgia team is expected to stay at a private government facility on campus rather than taking of space in a Columbia hotel.
And, the good news, the Georgia athletic director expects beautiful, sunny skies to greet the Bulldogs and Gamecocks when Sunday’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff arrives.
Here is the question-and-answer session with the UGA beat media and McGarity from Friday morning:
Q: After the Florida-LSU game was cancelled, was there any discussion of canceling Georgia-South Carolina?
McGarity: I think anything was on the table. I think the big difference between the Gainesville scenario and the Columbia scenario is that Gainesville is right in the middle. I’m sure they’re going to have 40 to 60 mph winds in the city of Gainesville and then Columbia will have some wind and some rain but nothing of the magnitude they will experience in Gainesville so the two really aren’t similar … they’re very different. So I’m sure the situations Jeremy (Florida AD Foley) were facing were different than the situations Ray (South Carolina AD Tanner) was facing in Columbia. If the security services were not capable of being provided up to the standards that South Carolina and I were not comfortable with then I’m sure the decision would be different than the decision that was reached last night.
Q: The way the hurricane wavered, what would be the outcome if Georgia lost (playing) this game?
McGarity: “Well, throughout the discussions I think everybody wanted to play the game because there’s not a way to really make it up. South Carolina is open next week and we’re open before the Florida game so there weren’t really any makeup days and we knew that due to Columbia being able to support it we felt confident that the game should be played in Columbia and discussions on Saturday and Sunday and the way it ended up, Sunday was the best day. So we’re in agreement with everyone and we’re looking forward to being in Columbia this weekend.
Q: Do you have an indication of what the conditions will be at 2:30 game time on Sunday?
McGarity: I think we’re pretty clear, sunny skies in the 70s and totally different than it would have been Saturday night. I think there’s going to be strong winds and a 30 percent chance of rain Saturday night but Sunday, according to all the reports it’s going to be a beautiful day.
Q: Obviously, there were a lot of consultations but ultimately, who makes the call on this? And were you all watching the hurricane path, what was going on?
The conference does, the commissioner does. And South Carolina and their meteorological staff, things were changing by the hour and we had discussions about lunchtime, what it looked like was happening and as things progressed the storm was moving more inward than perhaps they had anticipated which led to the Sunday decision as far as the game goes. Yeah, we had a conference call about 8:15 last night, the final call, to determine the course of action and we were all in agreement this was the right thing to do so we all moved forward.
Q: At one point there was talk of playing the game in Athens. At what point was that strapped off the table and how serious was the discussion?
McGarity: Well, we made that overture early in the week when we knew everyone needed to be attentive to Matthew. I do think that possibly could have been an option if the services for security and EMTs could not have been provided. That’s the situation in Gainesville and was the situation in Columbia last year. So if it had reached that level, the inability to provide those services, then perhaps we could have played here in Athens but it never reached that point. Even though the governor (of South Carolina) mentioned that state services could not be provided, the local sheriff, as was reported in the paper and reinforced by the South Carolina staff, that local resources could handle everything surrounding the game.
Q: With all the discussion and possible costs, what things did South Carolina have to promise to do before you would agree to play the game on Sunday?
McGarity: Well, the big thing was hotel rooms. We did not want to be in the position of having anything to do with displacing evacuees. We were all set with hotel rooms on Friday night. We even talked with the hotel about releasing some rooms on Saturday to afford more flexibility for evacuees out of our block. That was something that would not have been acceptable for any level as far as that goes but South Carolina did come up with an option that our staff is over there in Columbia this morning checking on actually a federal facility that is used by the judicial system on campus at South Carolina that’s not a public facility. It’s a private government facility they’re checking on this morning to see the viability of that and South Carolina felt very comfortable that they’d be able to accommodate a group of essential staff members and obviously student-athletes at a place instead of staying in a public hotel.
Q: What role did Kirby Smart have with all this?
McGarity: Well, he was engaged from day one. When this came up as something we needed to watch early in the week, between Josh Lee (director of football operations) and myself and Kirby we stayed in constant communication and Kirby participated in the conference call last night when the final decision was made, just to be able to hear the dynamics involved and be able to listen to the whole situation that involved both presidents and athletic directors and conference officials and other support staff.
Q: Is the plan to travel Saturday and stay there on campus Saturday night if these accommodations do work out?
McGarity: That’s correct. We would just advance, move our whole plan up 24 hours. Instead of leaving today we just leave tomorrow.
Q: Is that confirmed y’all would definitely stay in that facility?
McGarity: Josh Lee and his staff are at the facility this morning that has never hosted something like this but they have obviously hosted numerous federal judicial officials there and South Carolina with their travel staff felt comfortable it would fit all the needs from team meeting rooms to team nutritional needs.
Q: You mentioned offering Sanford Stadium early on. Were there any other venues possible besides Williams-Brice and Sanford?
McGarity: I can’t speak for South Carolina but I’m not aware of any other discussions other than really in Columbia. I’m not sure if Ray (Tanner) checked on any other facilities and you’d have to check with him on that.
Q: Moving a college football game to Sunday is rare, have you received any input from fans on this?
I think people understand the dynamics. They understand this is something not anyone wants to do but in light of the schedule and in light of playing the game, we’re able to do so. We were all in agreement that 2:30 was the best time to start the game. We’ll be back home maybe 10 o’clock that night and the student-athletes will be able to have a good morning of sleep as opposed to a 12 o’clock start which would have these kids up early, early in the morning. So that’s kind of how things landed there.
Q: How did you get assurance that hurricane evacuees will not be affected by a football game being played in Columbia on Sunday?
McGarity: Well, I think the hotel rooms were a direct reflection of that. The possibility of individuals having to rent a hotel room because the game was being played on Sunday, nobody wanted any part of that. Both schools understand the dynamics there and again, that was not a consideration. The safety of everyone involved was No. 1. We never talked about money or cost or what it would cost to fit any of these options. It was strictly based on could the city of Columbia support this game from a safety standpoint and pull it off and Ray and his staff are very comfortable after speaking with the sheriff that would be able to happen.
Q: The governor of South Carolina evacuated 250, 000, a quarter of a million people from the coast headed that way, what is your understanding of the people you have on the ground up there what the effect of that will be? Will there be a lot of extra people in the city and around the stadium?
McGarity: I haven’t heard back from Josh and know they had a meeting this morning. Certainly, the hotels, we have evacuees in Athens and Atlanta right now so I’m sure the city w ill bee full but I’m not so sure it will be any more full than it would be on a normal football game. Hotel rooms are hard to come by even if Matthew was not in place so I’m not really sure how that would affect things as far as overpopulation.
Q: Did you ever have an experience similar to this when you were associate athletic director at Florida?
McGarity: We had situations that were sort of ongoing, where our office was monitoring storms. This was the height of the season and in 2005 or so we had a situation where tornadoes or hurricanes were crisscrossing the state. You’re always having to live through knowing what tropical storm force winds can do to a city like Gainesville when it’s blowing 40 or 50 … it’s just devastating and to see what people are going through on the coast with hurricane force winds, it’s just unimaginable.
Q: Was there talk about preparation, when playing on Sunday, about the next game (Vanderbilt the following Saturday)?
McGarity: Kirby and his staff have been fantastic. They understand the dynamics. They have tried to have a week of normal practice to where the young men have focused on the task at hand and everything that goes into a student-athlete’s life but it did reach a point where we wanted to have some type of decision by the end of practice yesterday because when everyone left practice at 6:30, no one knew anything. That was unfortunate but these young kids are resilient and the coaching staff has done a great job of focusing on what they can control and Kirby’s been great throughout the process.
Q: Has the athletic department been involved in ministering to the families of the student-athletes that have been involved in Hurricane Matthew?
McGarity: I feel assured that’s the case with any student-athletes that are affected, certainly offering any assistance that we can as far as comfort or things that people need who are in the affected area. I’m sure our support staff is all over that.