ATHENS – Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity was holding a teleconference Friday morning to address the media, one of whom had more on his mind than just a game: Murray Poole of Bulldawg Illustrated, who lives in Brunswick, where Hurricane Matthew is threatening to hit.
“I’m sure you’re seeing things, Murray, that you’ve never seen before,” McGarity said.
Poole informed him that he had already evacuated to his hometown of Moultrie.
“I made it in good shape,” Poole said, laughing.
“Mother nature, there’s nothing you can do about it,” McGarity said. “But you certainly can plan around it and make sure everybody is safe as possible.”
The past few harried days have been all about that, filled with conference calls and radar checks, and culminated in the decision to move Georgia’s game at South Carolina to Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
McGarity claimed finances never came up. It was “strictly based” on whether the city of Columbia – without help from state troopers, pulled away for duty on the coast – could provide the security and emergency services required for the game.
South Carolina officials, with athletics director Ray Tanner the point man, said they received assurances that was the case. Ultimately, the SEC office and the commissioner had the final call, according to McGarity.
Georgia is making several big travel adjustments: It canceled its reservation for more than 100 rooms in a Holiday Inn, freeing that up for evacuees. Instead it was checking out an on-campus federal facility normally used for judicial training.
The team is now going to leave Saturday instead of Friday. It has also pared down the number of non-players and non-coaches it is taking on the trip.
“We did not want to be in the position of having anything to do with displacing evacuees,” McGarity said.
Kirby Smart was “engaged from Day 1,” either himself or through Josh Lee, the team’s director of operations.
Beyond Sunday, there’s also the matter of now having a short week to prepare for the Oct. 15 game against Vanderbilt, scheduled for noon that day. The NCAA has a 20-hour rule that restricts practice time, which McGarity said “will be addressed” with the conference office.
“I don’t anticipate any problems there,” McGarity said, adding about preparation time for Vanderbilt: “Kirby and his staff have been fantastic. They understand the dynamics.”
The final call to agree on the new day and time came at about 8:15 p.m. on Thursday night. (South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp announced the game change just before 8 p.m.)
“Throughout the discussions, I think everybody wanted to play the game, because there’s really no way to make it up,” McGarity said, pointing out that they didn’t have any mutual bye weeks. “And we knew that with the city of Columbia being able to support it, we felt confident that the game could be played in Columbia. The discussion was Saturday (or) Sunday, and where we ended up was Sunday was the best day. We’re in agreement with everyone, and we’re looking forward to being in Columbia this weekend.”
McGarity was asked why it took so long to reach a decision.
“Things were changing by the hour,” McGarity said. “We had discussions around lunch time about what it looked like was happening, and as the day progressed and the storm was moving inward maybe more than they anticipated, which led to the Sunday decision as far as the game goes.”
When asked if there was discussion of canceling the game, McGarity answered that “everything was on the table.” But he also pointed out that the weather projections were worse for Gainesville than Columbia.
“Gainesville is right in the middle,” McGarity said. “I’m sure they’re going to have winds at maybe 40, 50, 60 mph in the city of Gainesville. Columbia will have some wind, and some rain, but nothing of the magnitude that they’re going to experience in Gainesville.”
Georgia offered up Sanford Stadium as an alternate location several times during the week, as late as Thursday.
“We made that overture early on, earlier in the week, when we knew everyone needed to pay attention to Matthew,” McGarity said. “I do think that possibly could have been an option if the services for security and EMT could not have been provided. I think that was in the situation in Gainesville, that was the situation in Columbia last year, that the services just could not have been provided. So if it it may not have reached that level in the inability to provide those services, then we may have played in Athens. But we never reached that point.”