In case you’ve been unplugged for the past few days, Hurricane Florence, now a strong category-4 hurricane is headed for the southeast coast of the United States with a high probability of making landfall later this week. Though these predictions are not exact, it is expected to hit the coast of North Carolina with heavy rainfall, high-winds and a destructive storm surge.
While obviously our thoughts and concerns are most immediately with those in the path of the destruction (or at least they should be); there are also concerns about the West Virginia’s scheduled football game Saturday. As a bit of background, the Mountaineers planned to travel to Raleigh on Friday, staying Friday night and returning to Morgantown following the game on Saturday. Fans learned late Saturday evening, as WVU opened its home slate against Youngstown State, that WVU and N.C. State were in discussion for possible scenarios for the game, should the forecast continue to hold.
In the following days, those conversations have continued, but an official announcement has not yet been made. This has, naturally, led to a bit of speculation, so we want to sort of go over the most common scenarios for you and indicate the likelihood of them occurring.
Possible Scenarios (Ranked In Order of Likelihood Of Occurring)
- The Game is Canceled: This seems to be a very likely outcome, as we’ll note later, a number of factors are in play here. Travel during the worst of a hurricane landfall is dangerous and ill-advised. And while WVU could theoretically travel on the day of, that would not be a choice anyone would want to make. Furthermore, with a strong possibility of inland flooding, both in North Carolina and the rest of the region, the idea of pulling first-responders and others off their duties to work security detail at a football game is, well, yeah.
- The game is moved to Sunday: Again, depending on the forecast and storm damage in the area, WVU could move team travel to Saturday and the game could be played on Sunday. While this would require some juggling and last minute prep, it’s one of the few scenarios where the game is played more or less “as scheduled.”
- The game is played as schedule, or moved later in the day: It is possible the storm either stalls out or shifts in its path in a reasonable window for both sides to make a decision. In that case, the game is played as scheduled.
- The game could be made up later in the season: WVU and NC State do not share any open weekends during the regular schedule, but if either (or both) needed a game to become bowl eligible, it is possible they could play on championship weekend if either team isn’t involved in their respective conference championship game. If that were the case, they could theoretically schedule a game against either another FBS school in a similar situation (Akron, Iowa State, Nebraska, possibly additional teams from this weekend) or an FCS school with a waiver from the NCAA. I don’t think this scenario is very likely to happen for a lot of a reasons, but it is possible.
- The game is played in a neutral site: This seems to be a very popular fan theory, with people floating Charlotte, Atlanta, Bristol, Baltimore and other locations as possible sites. There’s a couple issues with these ideas. First, planning a neutral-site game requires a lot of coordination from both athletic departments. This is being put together, basically, in a couple of days so the logistics of arranging everything for a neutral site game in that span of time are more or less out. Let’s also just kill the idea they’re playing this game at Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s not a football venue and they’re not going to prep it for one in three days. There’s also the issue that even if WVU could travel somewhere there’s a strong possibility NC State can’t. That is: if you can’t bus or fly-in to Raleigh, you can’t get out. The only reason I put this as a “remote possibility,” would be the outside chance of the game being played at another location near Raleigh.Though all of the same rules as above apply to that too, but it’s possible if the storm were to say, have a lot of floodwater in Raleigh, but miss Durham and it be played there, but those seem only the most remote of possibilities.
- The game is played in Morgantown: On the surface this seems like it would be a stronger possibility, right? The reality is that beyond the difficulties it would cause for WVU in future scheduling (We’d likely have to flip next years return game, and then we’d be stuck with 5 home games. This would require us to buy out Missouri or NC State — neither of which are very appealing because in addition to that buyout, we’d have to find another FBS team willing to do home-only series and pay them for it. Note: that would not be cheap. ) the above issues are in play as well. Travel for NC State would become an issue, and while they could leave early, that would be an extra cost that they’d incur — added to any lost revenue from the gate and concessions and yeah. So, no, there is almost no possibility the game is played in Morgantown this Saturday.
What does that all mean?
There have been a number of questions, based on the Smoking Musket’s Twitter mentions, about what canceling the game might mean for WVU and more specifically Will Grier’s Heisman campaign.
There aren’t a lot of good historical examples to point to, but generally speaking for WVU the lack of an extra win is likely marginal. If for some reason WVU were in contention for the 4th playoff berth, a win over NC State might be enough to push them over another team, but there’s no real guarantee. If it might affect bowl-eligibility - which, let’s be honest here: if WVU is searching for a 6th win, something has gone horribly wrong with the season and we’ll almost certainly be in the midst of a coaching search at that point - then see the above scenario.
As for the Heisman Campaign? Well, I think any opportunity for Grier to put up style points on not only an FBS opponent, but a Power 5 team would help his chances and not playing this will remove maybe 300-400 yards. That said, there’s also no guarantee. It’s possible that in heavy weather, WVU battened down the offense and kept the ball on the ground, or Will has another of his Weather Games. These are basically unknowable outcomes.
What I do know is that Will’s Heisman campaign is not as important as the safety of players, fans, spectators and others. The decision to play the game or not should not - and I doubt will - hurt Grier’s chances.