Hurricane Irma: Concern over travel cancels Miami Hurricanes football game at Arkansas State

A satellite image of Hurricane Irma, taken Wednesday morning. (NOAA)

Updated 1:04 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017

Because of concerns about Hurricane Irma‘s impact on South Florida, UM canceled Saturday’s game at Arkansas State.

The game was to be played at 3:30 p.m. in Jonesboro, Ark. and televised on ESPNU.

It will not be made up this season.

The main issue in canceling the game is the potential difficulty the football team would face in returning to South Florida.

“We simply cannot put our student-athletes, coaches and staff in danger traveling to and from contests,” Athletics Director Blake James said in a school press release.

Hurricane Irma, a powerful Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 185 mph, made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday. Forecasters believe it will hit South Florida beginning Saturday, after it moves through Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.

The next opponent for No. 16 Miami (1-0) is 10th-ranked Florida State (0-1) on Saturday, Sept. 16 in Tallahassee. That game is scheduled for 8 p.m. and will be shown on ABC. Because of the storm, FSU moved Saturday’s home game against Louisiana-Monroe from 7 p.m. to noon.

Miami has canceled all athletic events and classes through at least Monday. It’s unclear when the football team will return to preparation for next week’s rivalry game at FSU, annually considered the most important game on UM’s regular-season schedule.

UM typically practices Sunday, takes Monday off, and returns to practice Tuesday. Given the potential damage Irma could cause, James said on WQAM it was “premature” to say when the team could return to the field.

As for Arkansas State, James noted the school was “accommodating” but “frustrated and disappointed the game is not going to happen.” The 16th-ranked Hurricanes were the highest-ranked opponent the Red Wolves have hosted.

ASU AD Terry Mohajir “exhausted every effort” to get UM to visit, James said. Miami was “willing to come back” to Arkansas State in the future, James said, but given the lack of available common dates, it would likely “a few years out.”

In a statement, Mohajir said he offered to “make additional accommodations” for Miami in its trip to Memphis (where it was scheduled to stay) and Jonesboro, and said ESPN offered to broadcast the game on Friday night if the sides agreed to move it. “Ultimately,” Mohajir said, “the Miami administration made the decision not to travel.”

Miami and Arkansas State signed a home-and-home deal in May 2013. The Red Wolves visited then-Sun Life Stadium in 2014, a 41-20 Miami win. The game contract stipulates that games canceled by force majeure — unforeseen circumstances — should be rescheduled when it is convenient to both parties.

Other UM contests canceled this weekend include a home cross country meet, soccer games against Charleston and Stetson, and a volleyball trip to Philadelphia that included games against Delaware and Temple.

“As we have seen from the tragic impact of Hurricane Harvey—and from South Florida’s own experiences—the impacts of hurricanes can be devastating and long-lasting, and can make travel extremely difficult and dangerous,” James said in the press release.

“I want to thank all of our opponents for their cooperation and understanding. Our thoughts are with those in the path of Hurricane Irma both here in South Florida and afar.  We are comforted in knowing that our community is strong and will come together, if needed, to recover from the storm.”

On Wednesday, the NFL postponed the Miami Dolphins’ home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to November 19, when both teams had a bye week. That game was scheduled for Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.

The football team, which beat Bethune-Cookman 41-13 to start the year, practiced Tuesday. Players who spoke said they were trying to focus on the Red Wolves (0-1), who nearly upset Nebraska on the road in the opening week, rather than the storm.

Four times in UM history a football game has been postponed because of weather, but it is unclear if a game has ever been canceled.

Last year’s Oct. 8 game against Florida State was nearly postponed by Hurricane Matthew, but a shift in the storm let the game continue as scheduled.

The last major hurricane to hit Florida was Hurricane Wilma on Oct. 24, 2005. With winds of up to 130 mph, Wilma caused $20.6 billion in damage and was blamed for at least 61 deaths, 35 as a direct result of the storm. Parts of the state were without power for two to three weeks afterward. The Hurricanes postponed their game against Georgia Tech until the following month.

Hurricane Frances pushed back the 2004 season opener against Florida State by four days. Hurricane Irene delayed Temple’s 1999 visit by three months. In 1998, Hurricanes Georges created one of the more memorable games in UM history.

That storm caused Miami and No. 3 UCLA and Miami to delay their Sept. 26 game. When they finally met Dec. 5, the Hurricanes stunned the Bruins, who were still ranked No. 3 and anticipating a Fiesta Bowl berth. Running back Edgerrin James set a school record with 299 rushing yards and scored his third touchdown with 50 seconds left to give UM a 49-45 win, breaking UCLA’s 20-game win streak.

[RELATED: Latest on Hurricane Irma, radar, prep lists]

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