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The SEC never should've let this LSU-Florida scheduling drama play out in public

As two of its members argue via the media over a game that was postponed amid Hurricane Matthew, the conference is trying to get some of its other members to rearrange their own games.

Rob Foldy/Getty Images

On Monday, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva dug in and refused to relinquish the Tigers’ Nov. 19 home game vs. South Alabama to Hurricane Matthew rescheduling, changing the tenor of LSU and Florida’s stalemate from practical to moral. That’s really bad for the SEC.

The most popular theory was that the two schools would buy out their non-conference opponents (South Alabama for LSU, Presbyterian for Florida) on that date and play each other in Gainesville. Much has been made of the stress that would place on LSU’s team; a game in Gainesville on the 19th would mean three conference road games in 12 days for the Tigers.

But Alleva, fresh from firing a national title-winning coach and rumored to be on his own hot seat, knew how to win his constituency. He saw Florida citing concern for safety and logistics when refusing LSU’s proposals for a game last Saturday in Baton Rouge, a game at a neutral location, or other options.

He saw Florida’s moral defense of not playing the game last Saturday, that football shouldn’t be our focus during such a time:

McElwain offered perspective to the critics of UF's role in the decision regarding LSU.

"Nineteen deaths, 2.5 million people without power. Families in dire needs," he said. "Obviously, they don’t know me, they don’t know the Florida Gators. They don’t know our players.

"Dodging the game? Wow."

So, to defend keeping an already scheduled home game (and its revenue), instead of playing in Gainesville on Nov. 19, Alleva pushed back on moral grounds:

And he’s right, or he’s at least as right for refusing to surrender a home game as the Gators were to postpone theirs.

Just as the state of Florida was waking up to devastation, a portion of Baton Rouge is still displaced by flooding and emotionally flattened by shootings, police protests, state budget woes, and the looming death of their live mascot.

Economic impact studies are built on crappy and dubious math. It’s hard to tell exactly how much the South Alabama game, a throwaway in the larger picture, is worth to the LSU community. But you can always ask the locals.

"I’d say for restaurants like ours in the community, it’s upwards of a $100,000 loss in sales compared to a normal Friday through Sunday," said Ruffin Rodrigue, a former LSU player and owner of Ruffino’s restaurant in Baton Rouge.

"Of that number, a lot of that is money going directly to our employees, most of whom are coming off the flood. We’re trying to catch up right now. This is the last home game of the season. It’s senior night. That means it’s a homecoming for a lot of fans and families."

His Ruffino’s location took on no water in the flood, but the Lafayette location did. A 9 p.m. post-flood curfew killed business across the city for almost a month.

"We were open for those three weeks, but no one could get here. The streets were flooded. Our sales went down 80 percent. But hey, still gotta pay your taxes and insurance, except there’s no cash coming in. So, everyone got really, really hurt. We need these home games to make good," Rodrigue said.

"These home games are critical to getting our head above water, so to speak."

Florida wants you to believe it had no choice but to postpone the game for matters of safety and well-being. LSU wants you to believe it has no choice but to keep its Nov. 19 game. And so now here we are.

Also, there’s a football component to a postponed football game. A big one.

1. Other SEC schools are privately furious. SB Nation spoke to multiple head coaches after the game’s scheduling became indefinite.

"I think we'd have a problem if that game caused an issue with either division champion," a SEC head coach told SB Nation on Thursday.

Any other SEC team with a feasible chance at the College Football Playoff -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and even two-loss teams like Ole Miss -- could be affected by the Gators and Tigers only playing seven conference games.

Most notable is Tennessee (5-1, 2-1 SEC), with Alabama and the weaker side of the Eastern division left in conference play. Despite beating Florida head-to-head, Tennessee could rank behind the Gators in the standings at the end of the current schedule:

2. Other SEC schools are not willing to help. SB Nation has learned that the SEC contacted at least two other schools since Friday in an effort to move conference games to accommodate an LSU-Florida make-up date. The results have been predictable: No one has been remotely interested in altering their schedule with a few weeks’ notice.

I can’t emphasize enough how loath other schools are to take this issue on. Outside of confirming they've been in contact with the league, none wanted to elaborate, even on background. I guess that’s understandable, because I’m not sure a less winnable situation has ever been presented to an AD.

Let’s say you’re a rival SEC school and you’re asked to move or delay a conference game to accommodate LSU and Florida. How in the hell do you sell that to ticket holders and alumni, who plan their lives around these games, often years in advance?

Because the league couldn’t keep LSU and Florida from arguing publicly, there’s no way to sell other fan bases on rescheduling as an act of charity. You can’t convince a rival school and its revenue-generating fans to help a suffering neighbor when a sizable contingent of non-Florida fans believe (correctly or not; doesn’t matter) the Gators stalled in order to not play a losable game.

This is a rare failure of management for the modern SEC.

Do you remember commissioner Mike Slive? He made the SEC billions of dollars and helped modernize the sport through distribution deals and branding. You might not know much about him personally, other than that he was really quiet.

Know that Slive acted like your grandfather in public situations but was an iron fist in private dealings. Slive understood the modern SEC because he helped build it. Outside of the basketball-first Kentucky and the handcuffed Vanderbilt, the league is a nation of rich, ruthless football states designed to compete at all costs. That competition is the engine driving the SEC’s value so high. The minimum head coach salary in the SEC West, where 7-5 gets you fired, is $4 million.

Slive always struck a balance between powers like Florida, LSU, and Alabama and kept the SEC away from the brinks of Big 12-style mutually assured destruction. Slive kept the league’s overhead low and heaped cash on its membership, with the understanding that cooperation kept everyone richer and more competitive.

New SEC commissioner Greg Sankey failed to control the public messaging from LSU and Florida. During a live interview with CBS on Saturday, he failed to provide insight into the league's direction, because at the time, there wasn’t one. When the postponement was announced, LSU and Florida couldn't even agree on how to describe the game's status.

One can assume that under Slive, cooperation would’ve meant a definitive rescheduling that would've been announced last week and a move that wouldn't have affected other schools. Both LSU and Florida would have publicly supported the move. Or else.

Now we’re left with two of college football’s biggest programs claiming moral high ground in public, with no foreseeable solution to a problem that could affect the national title path for multiple league powers.

The prospect of the SEC without Slive's balance is dangerous as hell for the conference. It’s fascinating for us, though.