When the governor says to stay home, it’s probably a good idea to stay home. Or it would have been, anyway.
The ACC and its schools decided Thursday that football would be played in North Carolina despite the statewide state of emergency Gov. Pat McCrory declared that day in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, which duly arrived Saturday with a vengeance.
At Carter-Finley Stadium, N.C. State and Notre Dame made a mockery of football through no fault of their own, slipping and sliding around a waterlogged field, the game delayed at halftime by a lightning threat. Not that the Wolfpack was complaining; years from now, multitudes who were warm and dry at home will claim to have been there for the 10-3 win over the Irish, Dave Doeren’s biggest at N.C. State.
In Chapel Hill, conditions were more workable, if far from ideal, as Mitch Trubisky threw his first interception in 243 attempts as the Tar Heels imploded in a 34-3 loss to Virginia Tech. Throw in Duke’s 13-6 win over Army, and the three ACC games in the Triangle had a combined 26 fumbles – 11 lost – and two blocked punts. Not exactly precision football.
This wasn’t fair to the fans who braved high winds and flooded roads to sit in the rain for hours, not to mention those who quite sensibly stayed safe at home, swallowing the cost of their tickets and a chance to watch one of the most anticipated home games in modern N.C. State history or the first matchup of ranked teams at Kenan Stadium since 2008.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with playing football in a monsoon. There is something wrong with plunging ahead regardless when there was more than enough warning to proceed with an abundance of caution amid potentially life-threatening conditions – if not at stadiums, then all too close at hand. Before North Carolina and Virginia Tech kicked off, three people already had died in North Carolina, while rivers surged over their banks.
The ACC held conference calls Tuesday and Thursday with the schools involved to assess the situation before making the decision to move forward and play all four games in North Carolina – Wake Forest hosted Syracuse late Saturday – as scheduled. Per ACC policy, games are played unless conditions “pose a threat to the safety of the game participants and/or fans in attendance,” with the final veto generally lying with the home schools.
“At that time, everyone and their brother predicted it was going to go back into the ocean,” North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. “We made the decision based on those forecasts.”
This weekend’s decision-making was complicated by the fact all of North Carolina’s ACC teams were at home, which made it difficult for a single school to act when the others did not.
As Cunningham pointed out, 3-4 inches of rain and 30 mph wind gusts don’t qualify as a tropical storm, let alone a hurricane. But there’s still a valid question whether it makes sense to play football given the other impacts of the storm within the state, and whether there should be more flexibility for making a late decision as conditions worsen.
The ACC has lately become more proactive with postponing basketball games in the case of dangerous winter weather, but there’s more inertia surrounding football. Notre Dame went through this last season at Clemson, playing in the rain as Hurricane Joaquin flooded other parts of South Carolina. With the SEC postponing and even canceling games this weekend, that kind of caution may become contagious. Ten years ago, no one worried about lightning delays. Now they’re commonplace.
There’s no easy answer. Rescheduling games plays havoc with television windows and the overall rigidity of the football schedule (you can reschedule a basketball game in midweek), but there’s a difference between bad weather and a weather emergency. When people are dying as Matthew soaks the state, when the governor and National Weather Service are telling people to stay off the roads, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to invite them to a football game.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock