Sun Belt

South Alabama is the loser in the LSU-Florida deal

South Alabama Jaguars head coach Joey Jones celebrate his victory over the San Diego State Aztecs during the end of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in Mobile, Ala. South Alabama defeated San Diego State 42-24.(AP Photo/Dan Anderson)
AP Photo/Dan Anderson

If you have been paying attention to the presidential election, you have heard one of the candidates say that he is going against a rigged system. I don’t respond well to his candidacy at all, nor do I believe what he says, but there is a rigged system out there.

It’s big-time college football.

This past week provides a huge example of a system that works for the rich programs and not so much for the smaller programs. Take South Alabama, which is having its best season in its short program history after beating Mississippi State on the road and a then-ranked San Diego State at home.

USA was in a bye week when Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast last Saturday, leaving several homes damaged and leaving millions without power. In Gainsville, the storm had minimal impact, but the LSU-Florida game was cancelled and no rescheduled date was originally announced.

Then both LSU and Florida factions griped at each other for the next few days. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey had to be the mediator to work out a plan to play the game. The plan that came together worked for both LSU and Florida, but left South Alabama out to dry.

South Alabama was scheduled to play at LSU on Nov. 19, but because Florida was also playing a non-conference game, the SEC ruled that Florida and LSU would play at Baton Rouge on the 19th, and that the game against USA would be cancelled, but the Jaguars would get their payout for that game, about $1.5 million. Florida also bought out Presbyterian in exchange for not playing that game on Nov. 19.

Suffice to say, much disappointment came out of Mobile. South Alabama athletic director Dr. Joel Erdmann said that he and Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson worked with LSU and SEC officials to try to get their game played. They offered to move their homecoming game on Oct. 29 against Georgia State to later in the season to play LSU on its bye week and open up the November date for the Florida game.

However, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva was still fuming on how the whole cancellation came down, and decided to buy out South Alabama to open the Nov. 19 date to play the Gators at Tiger Stadium. Alleva decided that he’d rather sell tickets to a game against Florida than against South Alabama.

Everything is within LSU’s right to cancel the game with USA. The Tigers didn’t want the Florida game in Gainesville postponed; the Tigers were willing to play that Sunday or Monday. Florida, whether for safety reasons or other concerns, didn’t want to play that game that weekend. That was a big mistake by Florida AD Jeremy Foley.

The move set off a chain reaction of bad decisions that ultimately hurt South Alabama and Presbyterian, who need those games against power teams to get funding for not just the football programs, but other sports as well.

The disappointment of the players, fans, alumni and parents of South Alabama is palpable — they won’t get a chance to play in or be a part of the massive stage of college football that is Death Valley. USA needs these big games for recruiting and exposure, and to have an opportunity like this yanked away is a bitter pill to swallow.

The game now puts South Alabama in a tough position in 2016. Down to 11 games this season, the Jags need three more wins over FBS teams to become bowl eligible. Now without the LSU game, the chances to get those three wins have shrunk.

Don’t give me the line that LSU would have blown out USA. The Tigers are not as strong this year with issues at quarterback, a hobbling Leonard Fournette, and a defense that is not as strong as it has been the last few years. The Jags have enough talent to give LSU a run for its money, and had a puncher’s chance of leaving Louisiana with a win.

That’s gone now. The only thing South Alabama can do is schedule a game with Presbyterian – a 1-4 FCS team – and hope the NCAA will grant an exception and count the probable win as a win over an FBS team.

But that doesn’t fix things, nor should it. Big programs make more money and have more clout to change realities in their direction. Programs in the Sun Belt just have to take it, or hope that the conference can one day compete with the big boys… or maybe the NCAA can have a real football commissioner as an oversight to keep college football on equal footing.

South Alabama will play a key SBC game against Arkansas State to try to get to bowl eligibility. Looking forward and not backward is the only thing the Jaguars can do, even when they are in a rigged system.

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