Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer 377d

FAU to stay in Wisconsin due to hurricane; Badgers offer use of facilities

College Football, Florida Atlantic Owls, Wisconsin Badgers

MADISON, Wis. -- With Hurricane Irma barreling toward their campus in Boca Raton, Florida, Florida Atlantic's football team will remain in Madison, Wisconsin, indefinitely, athletic director Pat Chun told after his team's 31-14 loss to Wisconsin.

Wisconsin officials have offered Florida Atlantic the use of its training facilities, lodging and other resources, including grief counselors, as the Owls begin an uncertain week. A local Pizza Hut has even promised the team a meal, per ESPN's Adam Rittenberg.

They'll need the help.

Officials from Palm Beach County, where Florida Atlantic is located, established a 3 p.m. Saturday curfew with the Category 3 storm headed toward the state this weekend.

Chun said the team's return date to campus remains uncertain due to various factors that will accompany the storm, including the availability of their chartered plane and access to local airports.

The families of Florida Atlantic's coaches and staffers traveled with the team to Madison. The team filled every available seat on its plane, which contained 87 players -- more than the norm -- and 23 family members. Players seemed exhausted as they exited a bus on Friday night at the team hotel, as cheerful children burst through the lobby and the spouses of Florida Atlantic's coaches hauled bags with whatever free hands they had.

"We've never done that," Chun said about the decision to bring families on the trip.

FAU coach Lane Kiffin said he was disappointed by the game's outcome. But he did not blame the storm for the team's loss. Despite a turbulent week, "we expected to come up here and win the game," Kiffin said.

He did, however, cite the "distractions" his team endured this week.

"Obviously, there is a lot going on," he said. "We didn't know if we were coming. At one point, I thought we weren't coming. Our players didn't want to come because there's a lot of players not wanting to leave their families. You've got kids coming into the office saying, 'Coach, I know it's a football game, but I'm really the only one to take care of my grandma. We don't know what's coming.' But there was a decision made to come play, so with all of those distractions, I thought the guys stayed together in a difficult situation."

Chun said school officials considered all options, including a possible switch to Friday night for kickoff and not playing. But traveling to Madison was their best option, he said.

"I give [athletic director Barry Alvarez] credit," Chun said. "Him and his staff made it very clear to us they would make any and all accommodations necessary to ensure that if the stay was elongated, they would assist us in any way possible."

Chun said Wisconsin's commitment eased the decision.

"We just then said, the best thing for us is let's get our guys out of here," he said.

After everything they've experienced this week and the unknowns they'll face ahead, Florida Atlantic's players remained optimistic and hopeful.

Daniel Parr, a Jupiter, Florida, native who threw for 142 yards and a touchdown in the loss, said he's confident the team will adjust this week and prepare for next Saturday's home matchup against Bethune-Cookman.

"If we gotta practice in a parking lot, it doesn't matter," Parr said.

Texas native DeAndre McNeal, who finished with 103 receiving yards and a touchdown, said he's not sure what to expect since he has never experienced a hurricane, but he said the team is grateful for Wisconsin's empathy.

McNeal once played on a youth team coached by Wisconsin linebacker Chris Orr's brother. After Saturday's game, he said Orr asked him if he could help him with anything and expressed his concern for the situation.

"We appreciate them 100 percent," McNeal said.

Jalen Young, who had 14 tackles, said his family is in West Palm Beach, Florida, preparing for the storm. He said he's relying on his faith this week.

"I have faith in God," he said. "Everything is going to be all right. I just can't wait to go back home."

After the game, Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst praised Florida Atlantic for its effort and composure.

"First of all, I give Florida Atlantic a ton of credit," he said. "I know just from talking to our kids from Florida, with [Hurricane Irma] being on their minds, and give them a ton of credit. [They're] a good football team and they came out ready."

And now, Florida Atlantic will wait, like so many back home.

"It's been a challenging week on everybody," Chun said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in South Florida right now. We know we're blessed that we were able to get out, and we're in a safe place."

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