With a Category 4 hurricane approaching much of North and South Carolina during the week of Sept. 10th, it was unclear early on whether or not the Niners and the Monarchs would meet as planned. Eventually, the decision was made to move the game from Saturday, Sept. 15th to Thursday, Sept. 13th at 4 p.m.
“Obviously, we’d been monitoring the traffic of the hurricane for quite a while, and initially you saw that a lot of the paths were sending it a little north of us where we thought our game would still be in good shape on Saturday. But then once it started to turn beginning of this week and we realized it was coming closer to us and we were gonna be north of it as opposed to south of it, that’s when we decided to kind of start looking into some other options,” said Tom Whitestone, Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations. “Really with the fluctuating nature of a storm path, whether it would hit closest on Friday or Saturday really kind of forced us to go to a Thursday start time.”
From the Monarchs needing to evacuate to Charlotte early to making sure that those who didn’t travel with the team got home safely, a lot of work was done on both ends to make sure the game was played and that everyone was safe and taken care of.
“From our end, we did a lot of communication with them early in the week. We worked with them to help try and find a place for their team to practice once they got down here; they were gonna be using our weight room while they were down here if they needed it to allow them to get some lifts in while they were here, thinking they were gonna be here several days before the game got played, but they ended up not needing to use our weight room because they’ve only been here a short period,” said Whitestone. “But the communications started pretty robustly as soon we realized that they were gonna have to get out of Norfolk and head this way, to start talking about at least the combinations. At that point, we weren’t really talking about changing the game time, but we were talking about how we could accommodate them and make sure that they had as pleasant an experience as they could while they were here.”
Old Dominion was able to practice Tuesday morning and head toward Charlotte that same afternoon, arriving in the evening. Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, Eric Bohannon, left Norfolk on Wednesday, prepared for whatever Florence brought Conference USA’s way.
“I heard late Tuesday night that the game was possibly going to be moved to Thursday, found out at about 11 a.m. Wednesday when I was stopped at a gas station that this was going to be Thursday at 4 o’clock. Charlotte’s been great, Tom, the communication from both schools, especially coming from Charlotte since they’re the home team, has been phenomenal. They’ve been very helpful, and the fact that this is gonna happen, likely with no rain, is great,” said Bohannon.
Not all of the reasons for making the decision to move the game up may have been obvious. Looking forward to the rest of the season and other teams’ schedules had to be done in order to really decide whether to move the game up. Waiting it out or rescheduling entirely would be the best bet.
“We did not share a common open date with Old Dominion, which meant that the only opportunity we would have to play them would be at the end of the season, if neither one of us were in the championship game. And honestly, when you only have only 12 opportunities in a season and you’re trying to win as many games as you can, we wanted to make sure we were maximizing our competition opportunities for both schools,” said Athletic Director Mike Hill.
Clearly, far more goes into dealing with a situation of this nature than many may realize. From coaches and athletic directors conversing to making sure there are staff members to scan tickets, it certainly takes a village.
“It’s incredibly complicated and I’m not sure everybody fully understands, if you’re not sort of in this world, what it takes to pull off and I do want to give a lot of credit to our Chancellor and our staff and our campus community. We had a football operations staff meeting today where there were probably 50 people in the room to discuss all the different logistics and the things that needed to take place,” said Hill. “Everybody was on board, they understood what we’re trying to accomplish and that is to stage a great football game, but with the safety of our student-athletes, our coaches, staff and our fans being paramount.”
Not being entirely sure how or when Florence would arrive in Charlotte over the weekend, having the option to move the game up proved quite beneficial. The Niners would go on to beat the conference foe 28-25 in a battle that allowed Charlotte to utilize their run-game.
As far as Florence goes, she was labeled a Category 4 as of Monday, Sept. 10, not expected to really hit the Charlotte area until sometime Friday, at the time. Even then, Charlotte could expect mostly heavy winds and rainfall.
“The hurricane was either gonna affect me here in Charlotte, my sister and her husband in Charleston or my family back at home in Apex. But, I’m staying put and just kind of prepping for everything. I really like that we did move the game up because there aren’t a lot of people here because it’s a Thursday night at 4 p.m, but we’re able to get that game in, which is really great for our players and our overall team experience and I think it strengthens our schedule too,” said junior Grace Fendrick.
Hurricane Florence dropped to a Category 1 by Friday, Sept. 14th and most of the effects of the storm were expected to roll through Friday evening through Sunday, with a risk of flooding over the weekend. A matchup on Saturday in Jerry Richardson Stadium would have been unlikely.
As for fans who originally had tickets to the Saturday game and were unable to attend the game when it was rescheduled to Thursday, other options for their tickets were made available.
“They can either get a credit which they can apply to a different game or even a different purchase, for example if they’re also basketball fans and they wanted to apply it to a basketball season ticket, they could do that. If it was a one-time shot and they just can’t do anything about a credit, we would refund their money. But of course we’re hoping that our fans will show up…and if not, that they apply for that credit, so that we could make sure they’re still able to attend a Niner game,” said Hill.
In order to make the most of the unusual circumstances and the weekday game, Hill and Deputy Athletic Director Darin Spease gave away tickets to the game through Twitter to help more fans attend the game.
“We need to win the football game and the more Niner fans we can put in the stadium, the better for us. It’s unusual, 4 o’clock on a Thursday, there’s no other college football really going on. To have folks here to cheer on our team and these guys is really why we do it; we want to give them the great fan experience and those guys on the field are gonna put everything on the line, so the more Niners the better,” said Spease.
Several students and alumni managed to reply to Spease and Hill’s tweets to get tickets to the game. Dave Russell, Charlotte class of 2000, was among the fans who were given tickets to attend the game.
“I had a situation where I could leave work early, figured if it’s gonna be raining a lot, maybe power outages this weekend, let’s enjoy the good weather while we’ve got it,” said Russell. “We’re excited about Mike Hill being here, think he brings a great energy to the program, so I follow him on Twitter and saw that he was giving tickets to students and thought why not ask if he’ll do it for an alum and he was kind enough to do it, so here we are.”
In any tough situation, someone always has to decide what to do and in the case of a Charlotte 49ers football game and Hurricane Florence on her way, there were a lot of people involved in making the best and safest decision for everyone that would be affected.