College football season kicks off during hurricane season, with games taking place across the country. that generates a lot of friction with the weather, at the beginning of the season and until late fall. We talked to people from TV, game operations and training to see what it’s really like to go through a weather delay.
staff are monitoring the weather at all times.
Former Florida associate AD Chip Howard was involved in the long delay of the Caymans game in Idaho in 2014, due to lightning in the Gainesville area.
“The lightning strike when it’s 15 miles [away], we let the coaches and the referee know,” howard said. “And then when it gets to eight miles, you start to wonder. That’s the easy part. the hard part is trying to figure out and forecast, because you have television, you have two coaches who are intense and highly competitive, and you have to worry about the fans, first and foremost. we have pretty precise protocols that we institute as soon as that happens. so all those things just happen as planned, what doesn’t happen is ‘okay, how long is it going to be?’ immediately when lightning strikes, 30 minutes pass before you can resume play,” per NCAA rules.
Most teams have a centralized way of monitoring the weather. sometimes campuses have their own and other times they use common services like accuweather. Florida has a volunteer lightning investigator who sits with the operations staff during the games. marshall uses third party software specifically for lightning tracing.
“The biggest factor after all the rain was that our field wasn’t right,” howard said. “I’m walking down the field with the umpire, and the umpire says, ‘You know, this isn’t safe.’ You know our field drains really well, but you can’t put a lot of water on the field.”
After one play and after a three-hour delay, the Gators announced the Idaho game.
during a delay, trainers suddenly have a lot of new things to manage.
a marshall-west virginia game in 2011 lasted nearly eight hours and was interrupted in the fourth quarter, thanks to lightning around morgantown.
“I think the biggest thing, our concerns, was the safety of the kids,” Marshall’s head coach, Doc Holliday, told SB Nation. “because, you know, that game started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I think, and at 11 o’clock at night, or whatever, we’re still there. those kids eat their pregame meal four hours before the game, so they hadn’t eaten since 11 o’clock that day and we weren’t prepared for that.”
a long delay means more time for training, but not much.
“Just stay positive as coaches,” Holliday said. “You go up to the kids as soon as you get there, and you do the corrections and stuff, and then other than that, [just] there’s so much you can talk about.”
being the away team usually means more than a challenge.
“You always expect to win the game no matter what,” Holliday said of trailing during the delay. “That game wasn’t totally out of control at any point, so it was definitely a real challenge for us as coaches, and like I said, I think when you’re away from home, it’s even more of a challenge, because the locker Rooms are so cramped, so small and so crowded that you just don’t have the room where the kids can relax as much as they need to.”
marshall players had to have their post-game meal, firehouse turkey sandwiches, delivered during one of the delays.
Marshall now travels with an emergency kit, which is also saved for home games. It’s got granola bars, slim jims, peanuts, “anything that has calories and a little bit of salt,” said mark gayle, the pack game’s thunderous manager.
“could probably power the east side of any stadium in the us. wow.”
feeding 100 players on short notice often literally means fast food.
During the Florida-Idaho delay, vandals ordered from across the street.
“Our players hadn’t eaten in a long time, so we had to find Jimmy John’s,” said Idaho ad Rob Spear.
during a penn state-michigan delay in 2017, teams had everything from sandwiches to pizza. bruce feldman of fox sports reported:
“some guys took naps, other players just stretched. there were about 120 chick-fil-a sandwiches brought to penn state; For the state of Michigan, it was about the same amount as Potbelly’s. penn state went out and bought about $500 worth of protein bars and products just to stay energized and hydrated.”
staff have to keep players ready on uncertain notice.
“That was the hard part of saying, ‘Okay, we’re getting ready to go,'” former Florida special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler said. “so you warm ’em up, make ’em sweat again, and then boom, you’re like, ‘OK, chill guys, we’ve got another 30.”
Fans who have to leave the stadium get creative, too!
some mountaineer fans passed the time during the marshall delays with some mud.
Fans can usually get back in, but not all Florida students during the Idaho game were so lucky:
danny gibble kicked off weird stuff week. he left the stadium after the game was suspended for the first time to go home and eat some instant noodles. he heard the game was back on and ran two and a half miles back to the stadium just in time to miss what would be the only play of the game.
For broadcasters, it’s all about killing time and staying on your toes.
“The producer or the director will tell the cameramen, ‘hey guys, we’ve got a problem with the weather. We need you to jump off the cameras and get out,’” said ESPN play-by-play announcer Adam Amin. “and the producer will let me know if there’s any weather in the area, and he’ll say, ‘keep in mind, we may have to shut down for a while, so get ready to go to the studio, get ready to go break, get ready to fill some time because the studio may be doing something else.
Sometimes announcers have to fill time before going on air, which is called a “tap dance.” It’s not always the easiest thing to do.
“As a broadcaster, you have to understand that every time you do something, you may have to tap dance in some way, shape or form,” Amin said. “But especially when you’re in the middle of a game, and you’re focused and all of your attention is on the game itself, or whatever you’re doing in the broadcast booth, it’s a 180-degree turn that you have to just be able to to adapt quickly, and it is not always easy. We spend a lot of time preparing for games, when the weather is out, yes, we’re aware of that, we’re thinking about a couple of things, but my main focus 99.5 percent of the time is the game itself.”
Because of the intricate role of college football in the national broadcast schedule, television itself can cause indirect weather delay.
in 2016, an mlb weather delay elsewhere changed toledo-byu’s start time, because both games were on espn2, meaning analyst mack brown had to leave the booth mid-game to catch a flight.
“it was like a flight at 1:20 am. m. from salt lake city to atlanta, and then from atlanta to connecticut, to be able to go back to the studio,” amin said. “I think the hope was, ‘well, we’re going to be close, but you know, if it’s a game that’s decided, blowout, maybe mack can walk away with a couple minutes left and we can handle this.'”
While there is no clear cut way to get around delays, having a plan and modern technology helps.
In 10 years, maybe we’ll have come up with a whole new way to approach them: lightning-resistant stadiums? self-draining fields? we’ll just have to wait and see!