The Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open the season with a hurricane-imposed bye.
Their opener scheduled for Sunday was postponed by the NFL until Nov. 19 because of Hurricane Irma.
“This is bigger than football,” Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston said. “I just want everyone to be safe. Football is not important right now.”
Meanwhile, the Miami Hurricanes decided to take the weekend off and many other teams around Florida kept a very cautious eye Wednesday on powerful and destructive Hurricane Irma as it churned across the Atlantic on a path toward the U.S.
No. 16 Miami canceled its game at Arkansas State, in part out of concern that the Hurricanes may get stranded away from home if the storm strikes South Florida.
No. 10 Florida State and No. 22 Florida moved up their Saturday home games to noon starts, out of caution. A slew of other events were either canceled or rescheduled, all in deference to the storm that forecasters believe may start affecting the state by Saturday — possibly with a direct hit.
“This is about what’s best for our students, coaching staff and their families,” Miami athletic director Blake James said, after telling Arkansas State about the decision that wasn’t exactly warmly received. “We’re not confident that we were going to get back after the game and we weren’t going to leave our players stranded somewhere. There’s bigger things than football.”
Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir said his team offered several options to Miami, including moving the game to Friday night.
“Ultimately, the Miami administration made the decision not to travel,” Mohajir said.
Florida International is hitting the road, now set to play Alcorn State on Friday night at Birmingham, Alabama.
That game was originally set to be FIU’s home opener (and first home game under Butch Davis) on Saturday, but Irma forced the switch to a neutral site.
FIU is taking about 70 other student-athletes from seven different teams on the trip to UAB as well, relocating them all in the interest of safety.
Switching the Dolphins-Bucs game to Week 11 was possible because that had been a bye week for both teams. NFL officials earlier announced the game would not be played in Miami this week.
The league also decided against playing this weekend at a neutral site, perhaps in Pennsylvania.
“I just don’t think that’s feasible, whether I would have liked that or not,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “I don’t think you could ask all the people who would have had to travel on both teams to say: ‘Hey, leave your families in the hurricane and let’s go play a game in Pittsburgh.’ I just don’t think that’s feasible.”
Both teams initially resisted switching to Nov. 19 because it means playing the entire season without a break.
“To go 16 straight weeks without a break is really tough,” Bucs defensive end Chris Baker said.
“Our guys kind of need that bye week to get healthy and kind of push through the second half of the season,” Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler said Tuesday. “It’s not an ideal situation not to have a bye.”
Koetter tried to downplay the potential impact of playing 16 weeks in a row.
“This isn’t going to affect us one bit until we get to Week 11,” he said. “If we’re 10-0 or 0-10, we’d be feeling different about ourselves. If we were 10-0, we’d probably want to keep playing. If we’re 0-10, I probably won’t be standing here.”
Maybe it won’t matter. The Dolphins went without a bye in 1992, which they gave up when their scheduled opener was postponed because of Hurricane Andrew. That’s the last Miami team to reach the AFC championship game.
The Buccaneers practiced Wednesday. But the Dolphins canceled practice, deflated their indoor practice bubble, and gave players the rest of the week off to prepare for the hurricane.
Florida State and Florida were both going to play night games as their home openers this weekend, with the Seminoles facing Louisiana-Monroe and the Gators playing host to Northern Colorado.
“It won’t affect us until much later in the week,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said.