Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 storm before it made landfall in South Florida. Arkansas State is threatening to sue UM if it doesn’t get a $650,000 “liquidated damages’’ fee after UM cancelled the game as Irma was bearing down on South Florida.
Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 storm before it made landfall in South Florida. Arkansas State is threatening to sue UM if it doesn’t get a $650,000 “liquidated damages’’ fee after UM cancelled the game as Irma was bearing down on South Florida.

University of Miami

Arkansas State to UM football: Pay up the $650,000 or prepare to be sued

By Susan Miller Degnan

sdegnan@miamiherald.com

February 12, 2018 04:33 PM

One-time Category 5 Hurricane Irma is still stirring up problems for the University of Miami.

Arkansas State University, which was set to play UM on Sept. 9, 2017, in a football game in Jonesboro, Arkansas, before it got canceled because of Hurricane Irma, sent a letter to UM on Monday saying if it does not receive the “liquidated damages’’ fee of $650,000 “on or before February 15, 2018, we will begin the process of filing a lawsuit against the University of Miami in the appropriate Arkansas state court.’’

Thursday is the deadline date for the $650,000 payment, per the original contract that was entered in May 2013.

The game has been a point of contention between the schools since UM announced the cancellation of all sporting events on Sept. 6, as Irma moved toward South Florida.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette first reported the news, with copies of correspondence from each school, as well as the original contract.

Basically, Arkansas State wanted badly to play the game regardless of the hurricane. The program, according to a letter to UM dated Monday and signed by ASU general counsel Brad Phelps, said ASU athletic director Terry Mohajir “offered to pay $86,000-$88,000 for the entire Miami team and staff to fly from Miami to Memphis on a separate air charter service to ensure that Miami could travel safely to Jonesboro and Miami’s contractual obligations with other air carriers were not impacted.

“Despite these offers, accommodations, and a number of other unilateral efforts on behalf of Arkansas State University, Miami refused to appear. This refusal caused Arkansas State University, the community of Jonesboro, and others significant harm.’’

ASU also wants to reschedule the game for 2020 or 2021, but UM athletic director Blake James “refused this offer’’ because of “prior scheduling agreements,’’ the letter said.

“I am aware of Arkansas State’s position on this matter,’’ James told the Miami Herald in an email. “We believe strongly in our standing and will not comment further as both parties’ attorneys bring this to resolution.’’

UM coach Mark Richt discusses the football team's saga in relation to Hurricane Irma, on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports.

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UM, per a Feb. 9 letter from UM assistant general counsel James D. Rowlee, said, “First, the only open football game dates for UM in 2020 and 2021 are home dates and they are reserved for games with Football Championship Subdivision [FCS] institutions. Second, even if those dates were to be released for a game with a non-FCS institution, the presently uncommitted home game dates in 2020 and 2021 cannot be replaced with an away game with ASU.’’

UM then offered to reschedule the game in Jonesboro in “2024, 2025 or beyond.’’

Rowlee said UM is holding Sept. 14, 2024 or Sept. 13 or 20, 2025 for ASU.

“If no response is received by February 28, 2018, UM will lift the holds and schedule games with other institutions for those dates,’’ Rowlee wrote.

Note that the original game contract has a “Force Majeure’’ provision that says: “This contract shall be void with respect to any of the games in the event that it becomes impossible to play such game(s) by reason of an unforeseen catastrophe or disaster such as fire, flood, earthquake, war, epidemic, confiscation, by order of government, military or public authority or prohibitory or injunctive orders of any competent judicial or other government authority. Notice of such catastrophe or disaster shall be given as soon as possible.’’

UM coordinator Thomas Brown and defensive end Joe Jackson talk about Hurricane Irma on Sept. 5, 2017.

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However, ASU’s Monday letter to UM stated UM football coach Mark Richt telling reporters in Orlando, where the team mobilized to practice for six days while its campus was off limits, “Could we have snuck out just in time to play that game? We could have, logistically…’’

But Richt also told reporters, “Our number one goal was the safety of everybody. That’s why we made the decision early not to play the game…The thing that was kind of the deciding factor for me was, I didn’t want to have a team in Memphis or Arkansas while all heck is breaking loose with everybody’s family. I didn’t want my players to look at me like, ‘Coach, why are we here? What are we doing here?’

“I said, ‘That’s it. We’re out. Let’s break camp early. Let’s let everybody make arrangements.’’’

The Hurricanes, who only played 11 regular-season games and finished the season 10-3, eventually also had to reschedule their game at Florida State because of Irma.