KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee was ready to forfeit to No. 3 LSU if Saturday night's game in Baton Rouge had not been rescheduled for Monday night because of Hurricane Rita.
Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said Friday the No. 10 Volunteers were prepared to take such action "if we felt like it would be unfair to our student-athletes and not safe for our student-athletes."
Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive said Thursday the game would be moved for safety reasons. LSU officials preferred to have the game Saturday or Sunday.
"We will now face significant logistical challenges, but we hope for the continued cooperation of our fans," LSU athletic director Skip Bertman said. "Naturally our strong preference would
have been to play during the weekend, but safety for
student-athletes, fans and everyone else involved in a football
game was the overriding factor for the commissioner."
LSU's season had already been affected by Hurricane Katrina. The
season opener was postponed and a home game against Arizona State
two weeks ago was played in Tempe, Ariz.
The LSU campus has been used as a temporary hospital, shelter
and morgue, and some players have had relatives staying with them
to escape the storm and its aftermath.
"This is another turn in the road for this football team. It's
something that we have gotten used to over the past month," LSU
coach Les Miles said. "I think we'll respond very well. The
players are excited about getting the opportunity to open the home
season on Monday night. I expect our fans to pack Tiger Stadium
just as if the game were being played on a Saturday night."
Rita was headed toward the Texas-Louisiana coast and forecast to
make landfall late Friday or early Saturday. Baton Rouge was under
an inland tropical storm warning through Saturday, according to the
National Weather Service.
Hamilton contacted the SEC office earlier this week to talk
about the potential for problems related to the storm. The Vols had
planned to fly to Baton Rouge on Saturday morning because of a lack
of hotel rooms. Now they will travel Monday morning.
LSU officials announced Friday that classes and operations will
be canceled on Monday, and they expected it would take two days to
clean up any debris such as fallen trees after the storm passes,
according to a statement on the university Web site. Louisiana
emergency officials told the university to expect some evacuees.
When Rita's path turned more to the north and east, Tennessee
pushed harder for a change.
Hamilton did not want to put off making a decision until Friday
because a group of student managers and trainers was scheduled to
travel to Baton Rouge by bus Friday morning.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was against having the game on
Saturday and advocated moving it to the end of the year.
"I wasn't going to get on a plane and take our kids to into a
dangerous situation. If I wouldn't [with] my children, why would I
send my other children?" Fulmer said after Friday's practice.
The SEC checked into making the conference championship game in
Atlanta a week later to accommodate a Tennessee-LSU game at the end
of the regular season, but there was a scheduling conflict with a
convention, Hamilton said.
Tennessee did not favor playing Sunday because the weather could
still be a problem. The final option was to cancel the game.
"With the No. 3 team in the country and the No. 10 team in the
country, we felt like it was an important game that needed to be
played," Hamilton said.
Playing on Monday means both teams will have less time to
prepare for next week's games. The Tigers travel to Mississippi
State while Tennessee hosts Mississippi on Oct. 1.