The University of Florida on Thursday called off its scheduled home football opener Saturday that would have put thousands of Gator fans on Interstate 75 in the final hours that frantic Florida residents could use the highway as a hurricane evacuation route.
“As the hurricane‘s track has approached the state of Florida, it’s become obvious that playing a football game is not the right thing to do,” UF Athletics Director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “The focus of our state and region needs to be on evacuation and relief efforts. There is a tremendous amount of stress currently on the roads of this state.”
The university’s announcement came a couple of hours after the Times/Herald reported that Gov. Rick Scott was openly discouraging fans from attending the game because of its potential to disrupt last-minute evacuation efforts.
“If you do not have to be on the road for an evacuation, you should not be on the road,” said McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for the governor. “The first priority for our highways must be for evacuees.”
UF had initially rescheduled the game with Northern Colorado from 7:30 p.m. to noon, but that didn’t quiet the clamor on talk radio and on social media.
I-75 has been choked with traffic since Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of Floridians flee north in hopes of escaping Irma. The interstate, the backbone of Florida’s transportation system, runs through the heart of the college town of Gainesville.
The Gators’ football stadium, known as The Swamp, seats about 92,000 fans and many of them would have been spilling out of there and back to their cars on Saturday afternoon, and some of them would need something that is Florida’s most prized commodity at the moment: gasoline.