University of South Carolina officials spent much of Wednesday trying to determine how Hurricane Matthew was going to affect the football game scheduled to be played Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium.
By the end of the day, the Gamecocks had come up with only one part of the answer. The game against Georgia will be played in Columbia, the school confirmed in a statement released at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday.
“We anticipate a decision about (the time and day of) the game to be made on Thursday,” the statement read. “The safety of everyone affected by the storm and the minimization of the impact on emergency personnel are the most important factors in making the decision. We are in communication with the National Weather Service, state and local authorities and the SEC regarding potential weather issues.”
The Gamecocks (2-3 overall, 1-3 SEC) are scheduled to play the Bulldogs (2-2, 1-2) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network.
The school has discussed the possibility of moving the game to either Sunday or Monday in Williams-Brice Stadium, Charles Bloom, the school’s executive associate athletics director, told WNKT, the school’s flagship radio station, in a Wednesday afternoon interview.
“If you can’t play it on Saturday night, I think that definitely has the potential of happening,” Bloom said.
In 2005, LSU and Tennessee rescheduled a Saturday game in Baton Rouge, La., for a Monday night.
“There is precedent for a lot of things,” Bloom said.
The most recent projections for Hurricane Matthew call for a minimal impact in the Midlands. However, no highway patrolmen will be available to work the game because they will be busy assisting the state’s residents who are evacuating the coast, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said during a Wednesday evening news conference.
USC “did call and ask and we just said not to expect any state support,” Haley said. “I can’t take troopers off the road to go put them at a football game. If (USC plays the game), they would be working with the Richland County sheriff’s office to get that done. We are just focused on the storm. We are not focused on the game.”
Bloom already was anticipating that possibility when he made his afternoon remarks.
“The question becomes, ‘Can we get enough local authorities or area police to help host if we lose Highway Patrol?’ ” he said. “In a perfect world you would want the game to be played as it’s scheduled. You plan on that until you can’t. Do we have enough police? Can we get the teams in here? Are we risking the safety of our fans getting to our stadium? How is the weather going to look at kickoff? It’s not an easy answer. You take a lot of factors into play. Whether those factors change is something we need to think about.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said his agency, along with the Columbia Police Department and the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, have contingency plans to include using school resource officers, as well as officers who are in training at the state police academy to handle game traffic and stadium security.
“There won’t be any lack of security at the game whenever it’s held,” he said.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey appeared on The Paul Finebaum Show on Wednesday evening and said he hoped the Gamecocks and Bulldogs – as well as Florida and LSU, who are scheduled to play in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday afternoon – can play their games as scheduled.
“The focus is on playing these games to the extent it’s possible as scheduled in the location scheduled,” Sankey told Finebaum.
In the meantime, the two head coaches involved tried to prepare as usual.
“I’ve been game planning,” Muschamp said Wednesday during his 1 p.m. appearance on the SEC teleconference. Athletics director Ray “Tanner and President (Harris) Pastides will handle it and make the best decision.”
Asked he was confident the game would go on as planned, Muschamp said, “Yes.”
“We’re looking forward to Saturday night here in Williams-Brice Stadium, obviously weather permitting,” he said. “Whatever decision is made, we’ll be ready to go. I talked to Coach Tanner briefly yesterday and there was no deadline on anything. Safety is the No. 1 concern, obviously.”
The Gamecocks have moved their morning practices to later in the day because classes at the university have been canceled for the rest of the week, Muschamp said.
“Other than that, no different than a normal week situation,” he said.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Wednesday he was receiving “hourly updates” on the weather.
“It’s going to turn hopefully for the better as far the storm slowing down a little bit,” Smart said.
The State’s Clif LeBlanc contributed to this story.
For updates on the status of the South Carolina-Georgia game, visit thestate.com