ORLANDO, Fla. -- The UCF Knights returned to practice Thursday for the first time in more than a week, making it abundantly clear the only option it had was to cancel its weekend game against Georgia Tech.
With National Guard troops stationed at its home stadium and the surrounding area still feeling the aftereffects from Hurricane Irma, UCF officials decided earlier this week it would not be possible to play the Yellow Jackets. Not only that, coach Scott Frost and administration officials decided to release players to their families on Friday, shortly after their game last week against Memphis was postponed.
Word came later on Thursday that the Memphis game has been rescheduled for Sept. 30 at Spectrum Stadium. The game had originally been scheduled for Sept. 9 and was moved to Sept. 8 in advance of Irma's strike before ultimately being called off.
UCF players did not return to campus until Wednesday. Even Thursday, Frost said he still had five players that had yet to arrive in Orlando.
"Whoever decided not to play the Memphis game, we had our guys ready," Frost said. "I don't think that decision was made on this campus, but once we decided it was too dangerous to play a football game on Friday night, it got real hard to tell kids they had to stay here and practice.
"At that point, we let the kids decide if they wanted to go home and be with family or stay here. We had a great plan for the ones that stayed here. It's just taken us a long time to get the whole team back."
Frost said about 40 percent of the team left to be with family. The others were housed in the safest spot on campus -- a dormitory built to withstand hurricane force winds in the 130 mph range. UCF provided them with enough food to last during the hurricane, and coaches and support staff were on hand to help them out.
Though UCF never lost power, much of the surrounding area did. Once it was determined the National Guard would use Spectrum Stadium as a staging area for hurricane relief, athletic director Danny White called Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury to work through solutions to try and still play the game.
Georgia Tech did offer to flip the home-and-home series: play UCF up in Atlanta this year, and then return to Orlando in 2020. However, that scenario was not going to work because UCF was unable to practice for the bulk of the week.
"I was hoping we could just flip them if we needed to," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said Wednesday. "But they didn't seem to have an interest in doing that."
Said Frost: "Losing two or three practices and trying to play a game would have been impossible. ... Playing it somewhere else wouldn't have mattered. In fact, travel would have made the problem even worse, so the decision to cancel the Memphis game affected our decision, whether to keep the kids here or not and when we didn't keep the kids here, I knew all along this game was in jeopardy."
Some UCF players and staff helped fill sandbags Wednesday for residents in the neighboring county, under a flood watch even though the storm passed three days ago. Frost said National Guard troops told him they had to rescue 50 people from flooded homes in west Orlando. Tens of thousands remain without power.
Even if UCF had decided to play in Orlando, it was unsure how the usual staff of 1,200 personnel needed to run the game would have made it to the stadium. Not only that, ice would have been unavailable for both players and fans.
"There seemed like there was so much more important things than a football game we were dealing with. That's how we arrived at the decision," White said. "So going through the week now, as flooding is occurring, I'm getting feedback from people who run our security on campus even if the National Guard wasn't here and our team stayed together, they're not confident they could have supported us to play a game. I don't know how it would have been possible."