Two short days ago, Florida and LSU appeared to be at an impasse regarding the game they were supposed to play in Gainesville last Saturday, but got postponed due to Hurricane Matthew. Now, suddenly, the game is back on again- in Baton Rouge.
That’s a turn of events that can only be caused by a little something called blackmail.
Last week, the apparent breakdowns in negotiations between Florida and LSU led me to do some digging and write up what I knew about the situation at that point in time. “LSU ducks Florida and is unwilling to reschedule game” was the perfect title for it because… well, that’s exactly what happened. And yet I had no idea that the wildest was yet to come.
For archival purposes, let’s call that last piece “Part I.” Here is “Part II” of the story, as narrated by three of the same four sources I used to publish the first piece.
The trouble began when the SEC quietly informed both schools that they had to play each other if they wanted to be eligible for the SEC Championship Game. That’s totally understandable, as it evens the playing field for all schools involved in the race for Atlanta, as now each team has an equal amount of opportunities to theoretically lose. So with the SEC stepping in and dropping that on the table, the need for this game to be played rose exponentially
But LSU athletic director Joe Alleva had one fact on his side that Florida didn’t. And that fact is that the Tigers, put politely, have approximately a zero percent chance of making the SEC Championship Game. They’ve already lost to Auburn, so what do you think Alabama, Mississippi and Texas A&M are going to do to them? And of course on the other side of that coin is Florida- a team that with a Tennessee loss to Alabama tomorrow would control its own destiny to Atlanta.
So, armed with the knowledge that his opponent on the negotiation table needed to play this game and his team didn’t, Alleva then dangled the game in front of Florida’s face. Really now, he did it with an attitude of “Hey, Gators… look what I’ve got… yeah! SEC Championship Game eligibility! You want it?” Those aren’t the exact words Alleva used to Jeremy Foley, but it was little more than a slightly more mature way to convey the same message: We (LSU) have something you want, and we know how bad we really want it- or more appropriately, need it- and now we’re going to hold you hostage and you’re going to listen to our demands.
Honestly, now. Who does this?
And of course, Alleva’s demand was to play the game in Baton Rouge. The Tigers and Gators would both buy out their November 19 cupcake opponents in order to clear the date, but Alleva put his foot down. Us Tigers WILL play a home game on November 19. This is pure blackmail: do as we say or we tell the whole world you were unwilling to play the game you had to play in order to be eligible for the SEC Championship.
Here comes the fun. Foley pointed out that Florida was owed that home game as mandated by the Southeastern Conference. And Alleva responded that he didn’t care, adding the rough politician’s equivalent of, “hey, you guys are the ones who want this game so bad! We don’t need to be eligible for the SEC Championship because we’re not going to get there anyway.” Which was something that Florida knew well before Hurricane Matthew even hit, but that Alleva just had to remind them of in case Florida forgot who was controlling the negotiations.
Foley presented other options. Oh, how he tried. He pushed hard to host the Tigers on November 19, and Alleva said no. Per one of the sources walking me through the story, Foley even offered to help pay LSU a piece of the “lost revenue” that they didn’t deserve but that Alleva somehow thought his school was entitled to. (I’ve emailed the other two sources asking for a comment about if Foley really offered to help pay LSU for their lost revenue and am awaiting their responses as of publishing.) And Foley was willing to play LSU on December 3rd, which would mean pushing the SEC Championship Game back a week but would also mean that both teams would keep their November 19 cupcakes. The SEC didn’t love this option, but they were going to be willing to do it.
But knowing that he could, Alleva said no to everything Foley said. No sooner than Foley proposed a counter offer than Alleva responded with the word no.
And knowing that it was either give in to this guy’s demands or forfeit SEC Championship eligibility, Foley finally agreed. There was no other choice.
The media is going to portray and subsequently remember Alleva for his refusal to cooperate and compromise with Florida, but it’s even worse than just that. The tone in which Alleva spoke to Foley was condescending, arrogant and indicated that he was completely devoid of any feelings or thoughts for anybody else involved. Not even his own players. It’s as if Florida asking Alleva to play in Gainesville the way the conference asked them to was asking him to give up his first born child. In a cosmic sort of way, it’s funny because Alleva’s main worry about November 19 was about his team playing three SEC games in twelve days. It would be risking their health to play three SEC games in twelve days, said Alleva, so his idea of solving that problem was to have his players play three SEC games in twelve days.
Here’s the kicker. LSU didn’t even consider surrendering the 2017 home game against Florida. When Foley finally agreed to play this year in Baton Rouge, the offer for a swap was immediately thrown out onto the table. Florida will play at LSU in 2016 if LSU plays at Florida in 2017. Guess what our friend Alleva said to that?
That was the point where SEC had finally had enough of Alleva’s crying, and stepped in. The league office and Foley basically told Alleva to quit his whining and listen up. LSU will play at Florida in 2017 and that was the end of that. Alleva had succeeded in blackmailing Florida, but Florida will be getting the last laugh. With the exception of the season opener against Michigan, the entirety of the tough part of the Gators’ 2017 schedule will be played in the Swamp, as now Tennessee, Texas A&M, LSU and FSU will all come to the Swamp. And given that the Tigers’ 2016 season is already shot, they could use the home field advantage much more next year than this year. What are they playing for this year, anyway? An Outback Bowl berth?
That’s where the story ends… for now. The moral of the story is if your arguing opponent has something to lose that you don’t, all you have to do to get it is bitch and moan just long enough and you’ll get anything you want. That’s it. If Joe Alleva does his job with the intention of being a role model, he should be proud of himself now that he’s set the standard for how to act like a petulant child. Furthermore, Alleva was so near sighted in his petulance that he failed to see the long term impact of what he was doing. His stupidity will come back to bite him soon enough, as I’m sure his new coach is going to love making trips to the Swamp in each of his first two seasons as he’s trying to rebuild his program.
Lastly, I want to leave y’all with this: it’s going to work itself out in the end. We live in a world where everything has to be right now, now, now, not in five minutes or even in five seconds. We don’t think about later. And that was true in this particular situation, too. We were- as both ADs were- thinking about what was best now without regards to later. But when later comes, we’ll be OK with it. Nobody will complain about hosting LSU twice in a row when the time comes to actually do it. And because Alleva refused to think about later, he put his team in the position of having to travel to Florida in consecutive years where his program actually has a chance to accomplish something while smirking about “winning” a home game in a year in which his team’s biggest win might be… winning that home game.
Make no mistake, Joe Alleva did something shameful. But let’s revisit who came out on top of this exchange in a year or two.