JONESBORO, Ark. – Centennial Bank Stadium was expected to be full of 30,000-plus college football fans Saturday afternoon, as Arkansas State was set to host the highest-ranked national opponent to ever visit Jonesboro while a national television audience also watched on ESPNU.
Instead, frustration abounds across the Red Wolf fan base and among local business owners expecting to see their restaurants and hotels full of customers in town for the game with 16th-ranked Miami, a program with five national titles in its history. But those lofty expectations got shot down early Wednesday when Miami Athletic Director Blake James announced that the Hurricanes will not make the trip to Jonesboro, citing travel concerns in trying to return home as Hurricane Irma, a category five hurricane, bares down on South Florida.
The game was projected to have an impact of approximately $4.2 million on the Jonesboro economy.
This news came on the same day that other South Florida-based college football teams re-affirmed plans to play this weekend. Boca Raton-based Florida Atlantic will play as scheduled Saturday at Wisconsin while Greater Miami-based Florida International will also proceed with plans to play a home game vs. Alcorn State, although the game will be moved and re-scheduled out of harm’s way, with a re-set for Friday night in Birmingham. Tampa-based South Florida will also travel to Connecticut on Saturday. This has left many A-State fans wondering why “The U” is the only south Florida school opting not to play, particularly after ASU Athletic Director Terry Mohajir said in a statement that his school and ESPNU offered to move the game to Friday night to better accommodate Miami.
“I appreciate the Sun Belt Conference office, Commissioner Karl Benson, and ESPN’s work to give us the option to move the game to Friday night, which gave the University of Miami an alternative. Ultimately, the Miami administration made the decision not to travel.”
Mohajir also told sports radio station KNEA (95.3 The Ticket) Thursday morning that he offered to pay for the costs of UM’s return trip home if they would re-consider playing the game on Friday. He also offered use of on-campus athletic facilities, including the indoor practice building, in case the Hurricanes were forced to stay in Jonesboro for an extended period of time.
“I think they had their minds made up pretty early,” Mohajir said.
A sports opinion writer for the Miami-Herald, Barry Jackson, slammed Mohajir’s official statement for not being “more understanding” in this article. The opinion piece makes no mention of the other schools’ plans to play games.
A-State fans took to social media and on-line message boards in voicing their frustration over the game’s cancellation. Based on Facebook and Twitter traffic, some Red Wolf fans apparently feel MU has had second thoughts about playing the contest in the wake of ASU’s game last weekend in which the Red Wolves pushed Nebraska to the final horn before falling 43-36, while others subscribe to the more plausible theory that the Hurricanes’ coaches viewed ASU as a “trap game” and didn’t want to be bothered with having to prepare for and play the Red Wolves, with Miami’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener against in-state rival Florida State set for the following weekend.
The AStateNation.com Scout site published a scathing editorial regarding Miami’s decision to cancel the game, calling it a “low brow scam.”
Most of NEA Report’s Twitter followers seemed to be on the understanding side in a poll where we asked what the public’s feelings were.
What are your feelings on Miami's cancellation of the Red Wolves home opener?
— NEA Report (@NeaNews) September 6, 2017
The game cannot be re-scheduled for this season, as no mutual open dates exist. The ASU-Miami contract was signed in 2013, calling for a home-and-home series. The Red Wolves fulfilled their part of the deal when they played at Miami in 2014. There is a $650,000 buy-out clause, but an additional clause exists voiding the buy-out in the event it becomes impossible to play due to unforeseen disasters or circumstances.
Mohajir told The Jonesboro Sun’s Kevin Turbeville the buyout was not part of his discussion with James.
The ASU athletic department hopes to add an additional game to make up for the loss of a home game, probably against an FCS (formerly known as Division 1-AA) opponent, although it isn’t yet known if that will be possible at this late date.
The Red Wolves have an open date on November 4.
Story by Randy Myers | Special to NEA Report