As Miami coaches and players brace for Hurricane Irma to strike this weekend, they are prepared to be away from the football field for an extended period.
On Wednesday, Miami canceled its game Saturday at Arkansas State. Hurricanes coach Mark Richt dismissed all of the players, most of whom are from Florida, particularly the Miami area. Several coaches went home to begin preparing for the hurricane's impact, and some began to evacuate the area.
Players not from the state had the option to evacuate to Orlando and stay in a hotel, with transportation and accommodations provided by the school, sources told ESPN. Miami-Dade County on Thursday ordered mandatory evacuations for part of Coral Gables, where the university is located.
The coaches remain in regular communication with one another and the players, but there is no timetable for a return to campus.
Richt tweeted Thursday that the team hadn't practiced since Tuesday and would not return until after the storm had passed. He also defended the decision to cancel the Arkansas State game.
To set the record straight we have not practiced since Tuesday and we won't til everyone gets back in town after this CATEGORY 5 hurricane!
— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) September 8, 2017
Very sad to read some of the comments of some football fans and some members of the media believing we had some other motive! U Family!!
— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) September 8, 2017
"I had a feeling early in the week that the Arkansas State game was not really the game that would be the biggest game affected by this," a Miami assistant told ESPN. "Because it's not really what happens [with the storm]. It's the aftermath that's the issue."
Miami is scheduled to visit rival Florida State on Sept. 16 before returning home to face Toledo on Sept. 23. Florida State is still scheduled to host Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, while Florida on Thursday canceled its home contest with Northern Colorado.
Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz echoed those thoughts Friday on Twitter, emphasizing perspective rather than worrying about the next game or rescheduling a game.
"After two days of prepping the house and waiting hours for gas and supplies, my family each packed 2 suitcases and spent 13 hours in a car yesterday," Diaz posted. "What we left behind, we figure we won't see again. It will just about take a miracle for there to be football in this state NEXT weekend let alone this one.
"The entire state right now is in the cross hairs of the strongest storm ever in the Atlantic. Ever. And we are still talking about football with all these lives in the balance? Come on man, perspective. ... Stay safe everyone!"
ACC commissioner John Swofford told ESPN that football is secondary this weekend.
"Throughout the state of Florida and the needs that are there, these kinds of events put in perspective where football lies," Swofford said Friday. "As important as football is to all of us, it really pales in comparison when you're talking about life-threatening events and the ramifications of something like this hurricane. ...
"Ultimately, while we want to try and play the games, we do not want to do so at the expense of the best interest of our citizens, our fans, our players and our students. With football, it's not easy to reschedule games. We all know that. If the need arises, we'll do the best we possibly can do to do that, and in as fair a way as it can be done. And if it can't be done, then everybody adjusts to it, and life moves on."
One Miami source said the football team could face a similar situation to Tulane in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in late August. Tulane played all of its games away from home that season and moved its operations to Jackson State, SMU and eventually Louisiana Tech. Miami has so far not announced any plans to move its athletic teams from campus.
Swofford said that if conference games did not take place and could not be rescheduled, and the participating teams were in the league race, they likely would look at head-to-head performance or winning percentage to determine where those teams would end up.
"There are adjustments that can be made and would be made, if necessary," Swofford said. "But it's really premature to jump to that point."
Players like defensive end Demetrius Jackson praised the school's decision to allow all athletes to return to their families. Although players have been told to remain in touch with their coaches, a Miami assistant acknowledged that there could be a stretch when communication is down.
"The players I talked to, they felt very strongly that they wanted to be with their family," an assistant said. "The idea of being away and playing a football game with this thing bearing down was a distraction that they didn't want to deal with. You have players who have small children and moms, and they don't know where everybody is. That's a bad look.
"It sounds dramatic, but it's not. It's life. Lives are in the balance."