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Will Muschamp lets suspended Gators off the hook after 'terminated' game

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports
Muschamp rips critics, defends reinstating players
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Florida NCAA college head football coach Will Muschamp fields questions from reporters during Media Day at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., Sunday, Aug, 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

The Florida-Idaho football game officially is now a non-event, with the schools announcing Wednesday afternoon that it will not be replayed after being “terminated” by a massive electrical storm Aug. 30.

There will be no makeup date.

But the non-game did serve one purpose. It allowed Florida coach Will Muschamp to free three players from disciplinary jail based on time served. Gators Darious Cummings, Demarcus Robinson and Jay-nard Bostwick were reinstated after being suspended for a game that wasn’t played.

It’s a clever accounting trick, even if it boils down to a lack of accountability. Players broke rules and didn’t have to pay the price that hurts the most: playing time.

But these are the kinds of odd developments that arise when a thousand lightning bolts turn the season opener into fiasco. It’s complicated.

We’ll get back to Muschamp and the players in a moment. First, the cancellation fallout.

Neither the Gators nor Vandals got to play a game they’d been looking forward to for months. Idaho will still receive $950,000 of what was a guarantee of $975,000, so the low-budget school gets the payday it badly needs. And Florida will make good to the fans who purchased tickets and will get one less home game than they paid for.

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Darious Cummings and the two other suspended Gators are available to play Saturday vs. Eastern Michigan. (AP)

Darious Cummings and the two other suspended Gators are available to play Saturday vs. Eastern Michigan. (AP)

There was a mutual open date, Oct. 25, but that certainly wasn’t attractive to Florida and perhaps not to Idaho, either. It falls between league games for both – the Gators play defending SEC East champion Missouri on Oct. 18 and 2014 SEC East favorite Georgia on Nov. 1. The Vandals also would be squeezing in a cross-country trip between conference games: Sun Belt brethren New Mexico State before and Arkansas State after.

Florida absolutely didn’t want to surrender its bye week before a game that could decide the division. Idaho probably wasn’t crazy about signing up for a beatdown at that point in the schedule, either.

Truth is, this game only was valuable to Florida as a dress rehearsal. It was a low-stress chance to get quarterback Jeff Driskel up to game speed in coordinator Kurt Roper’s new offense, to see new offensive line coach Mike Summers’ unit in action, and to get freshmen indoctrinated into college ball. With that opportunity gone, rescheduling made risk higher than reward.

In addition to the loss in mental preparation time and physical recovery time for the Cocktail Party game, what if this turns out to be a magical season for Florida? What if the Gators wind up in the hunt for a playoff berth? Playing Idaho almost certainly is not going to help their strength of schedule. Better to play 11 regular season games than a 12th that serves as a power-rating anchor.

Florida has another patsy lined up for this Saturday in Eastern Michigan, which was last seen comically trying to flail its way through a cinder block wall in a moment that is emblematic of the program’s historic futility. So this would seem to be a low-risk opportunity to roll over the player suspensions from week one.

But Muschamp opted not to do that. Instead, all three will be back in uniform.

To be fair, they did miss a play. Singular. There was an opening kickoff against Idaho before the game was canceled. Apparently that is penalty enough.

The un-suspensions drew plenty of scorn and mocking from the world outside Gainesville, and Muschamp did not take kindly to that. He got a little chesty on the weekly Southeastern Conference teleconference Wednesday.

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Will Muschamp came to his own defense Wednesday, ripping critics who questioned his decision. (AP)

Will Muschamp came to his own defense Wednesday, ripping critics who questioned his decision. (AP)

"It's not just about suspending players for games," Muschamp said. "There's a lot of things that go into discipline. It's about altering and changing behavior, which we've done. I think our discipline speaks for itself and how we've handled our football team, OK? If it was about suspension, you'd never have an issue. Right?

"At the end of the day, it's more than that. There's a lot of things that go into those situations, a lot more than people know. And it's very frustrating for me as a coach ... to have someone being critical and you don't even have all the information."

Muschamp wasn’t going to supply that information, of course. But it can be presumed that in the case of the two defensive linemen (Robinson’s discipline was a university decision, whereas the other two broke unspecified team rules) they got the usual treatment: running stairs or other physical exercise, sitting out key periods of practice and not being involved in the game plan or game prep. When kickoff came (and went) they were not suited up to play.

So there was some punishment involved. And the intent was there to have them sit a game. But the follow-through was weak.

Bringing them back for Eastern Michigan is not a move to ensure winning the game. If the Gators couldn’t win without those three this week, Muschamp won’t be around to see Kentucky arrive for the SEC opener Sept. 13. And truth be told, Muschamp’s disciplinary record is solid in his time at Florida – certainly better than predecessor Urban Meyer’s.

"At the end of the day, I make the decisions in this program, I handle the discipline in this program and it's been handled very well," Muschamp said on the teleconference.

But at the end of the day, Will Muschamp also went back on what he (or someone) believed was the appropriate penalty for violating rules. That squishy line of discipline may not resonate well with the players who have always stayed on the right side of it. And it feels like a coach who will scurry through an available loophole to avoid administering the only kind of penalty with teeth.

So if there is a winner from The Opener That Never Happened, it’s the three Florida Gators who got off with time served. One play.

 

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