Report: Arkansas State may sue Miami for $650K over canceled football game

A satellite image of then-Category 5 Hurricane Irma, taken three days before the storm hit South Florida as a weaker system. (NOAA)

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Miami’s decision to cancel a game at Arkansas State in the face of Hurricane Irma may lead to a major lawsuit.

KAIT Region 8 News, an ABC affiliate in Jonesboro, Arkansas, reported that Arkansas State may seek $650,000 for “significant disruption and damages” under the terms of their 2013 home-and-home contract.

In a letter to a UM lawyer, an Arkansas State attorney claimed Miami was “unwilling” to fulfill its contractual duties, citing the original cancellation and a lack of agreement on Arkansas State’s preferred make-up date.

Citing a force majeure (circumstances beyond control) clause in the deal, Miami canceled all activities, including the Sept. 9 football game in Jonesboro, and evacuated its campus as Irma, then a Category 5 storm, plowed through the Caribbean with sustained winds of 185 mph. It made landfall in South Florida on Sept. 10 as a weaker system, but UM officials had no regrets over the decision.

“We simply cannot put our student-athletes, coaches and staff in danger traveling to and from contests,” Athletics Director Blake James said at the time.

That was poorly received in Jonesboro, where some fans criticized UM for backing out. Scout.com affiliate AStateNation said Miami was pulling a “lowbrow scam.” ASU Athletics Director Terry Mohajir said

In a letter sent Monday to UM attorney James D. Rowlee, Arkansas State attorney Brad Phelps detailed how seven other FBS schools in Florida and Georgia were able to either play or reschedule games that weekend. He said ASU made “numerous good faith efforts,” including an offer to spend more than $86,000 on a charter flight to Memphis, and UM “refused to appear,” causing “significant harm” to the ASU community and the city of Jonesboro. He said the force majeure clause did not apply.

Miami’s offer to reschedule the game in either 2024, 2025, 2026, 2027 or 2028, according to Phelps, was “not workable for and would be detrimental” to ASU, which hoped to reschedule the game in either 2020 or 2021.

In 2020, UM’s non-conference schedule includes Temple (home), Michigan State (road) and FIU (road, technically, but could be played at Hard Rock Stadium). In 2021, UM opens with Alabama in Atlanta and hosts Appalachian State and Michigan State. In both those seasons, UM plans use its final non-conference slot to play a home game against an FCS team, rather than a road game at Arkansas State.

“Because Miami has demonstrated that it is unwilling to reschedule the game within a reasonable time frame, despite having the ability to do so, Arkansas State is left with no choice other than to seek damages for Miami’s breach,” Phelps wrote.

“When this contract was executed, all parties agreed that if one party did not appear, the other party would receive a liquidated damages payment of $650,000. Under the terms of the contract, that payment is due on February 15, 2018.”

Rowlee, UM’s attorney, said in a previous letter to Phelps the school had no intention of paying that sum.

In a statement Monday, UM’s James said he was “aware of Arkansas State’s position on this matter. We believe strongly in our standing and will not comment further as both parties’ attorneys bring this to resolution.”

It also pulled out of a volleyball game at Temple and canceled two home soccer matches and a home cross country meet. The Sept. 16 football game at rival Florida State was moved to Oct. 7, and its Oct. 12 home game against Georgia Tech was pushed to Oct. 14.

UM, which had never evacuated campus before, sent approximately 4,300 residential students home. Thirty-five football players and 20 athletes in other sports evacuated with coaches and staff to Orlando. Others fled out of state. Some local players stayed with their families in South Florida.

With UM’s campus closed, the Hurricanes practiced in Orlando for five days. They played their first football game Sept. 23 against Toledo, three weeks after their Sept. 2 season-opener against Bethune-Cookman.

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