Sports leagues and teams alter schedules in anticipation of Hurricane Irma

As Hurricane Irma thundered through the Caribbean on Wednesday, sports teams throughout South Florida canceled games, evacuated families and began prepping for the most powerful storm the area has seen in years.

Days before the Category 5 hurricane was expected to make landfall, every sport, every team and every level had been affected. The NFL postponed Sunday’s regular season opener between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and host Miami Dolphins, colleges across the state shifted kickoff times and postponed games, and high schools throughout the area canceled several days’ worth of practices and games.

At the University of Miami, classes were canceled for the remainder of the week, and the athletic department scratched the entire weekend’s athletic schedule, including the Hurricanes’ football game Saturday at Arkansas State.

“The decision to cancel these athletic contests is difficult, especially as some are scheduled to take place away from Miami,” Blake James, the school’s athletic director, said in a statement. “However, we made the collective decision that we simply cannot put our student-athletes, coaches and staff in danger traveling to and from contests. As we have seen from the tragic impact of Hurricane Harvey — and from South Florida’s own experiences — the impacts of hurricanes can be devastating and long-lasting, and can make travel extremely difficult and dangerous.”

Tropical storm-force winds could begin hitting South Florida on Saturday, with conditions worsening overnight and Sunday. With plenty of warning, teams, athletes and their families were wasting no time in taking precautions.

The Miami Marlins were set to wrap up their homestand Wednesday night against the Nationals before heading to Atlanta. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said he would be allowing families of players and staff to travel with the team Wednesday night when it was set to embark on a seven-game trip.

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“Jeffrey ultimately made the decision that all the families are going to get to go with us, travel the whole trip, kids and the whole thing and really provide a service for our families, which is really very nice of the organization,” Manager Don Mattingly told reporters.

While the Marlins’ games would not have been directly impacted by Irma, the team’s decision means players won’t have to worry about how their loved ones are dealing with the storm.

“We all feel the same way,” Mattingly said. “You all feel the same way, too. If you had your kids here and you’re leaving on a trip, it’s not the best feeling to leave your family somewhere.”

While most of the NFL gets underway Sunday, the Bucs and Dolphins will have an unexpected bye week to start the season. League officials considered playing the game at a neutral site, such as Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, but ultimately decided to push the matchup back to Week 11, when both teams had been scheduled for a bye. The move means both teams will have to play 16 straight weeks this season.

The Orlando Pride was scheduled to host the Seattle Reign on Saturday, but the National Women’s Soccer League moved the game to Thursday night. Some players felt that was still cutting it close with Irma’s anticipated arrival and were urging the league Wednesday to consider rescheduling the game for a later date.

“It’s difficult for us players to understand why the priority is to play this game rather than get out of this area?” Seattle midfielder Megan Rapinoe tweeted.

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“Being in Orlando isn’t safe, it’s scary & I cant help but feel that the number 1 priority should be us getting out of here now,” Seattle co-captain Jess Fishlock tweeted.

A four-team NHL tournament for rookies also was canceled Wednesday. The tournament was scheduled to take place in Estero, Fla., near the state’s southwestern coast, beginning Saturday and was to include the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators.

Florida is in a state of emergency, and classes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have been canceled for the rest of the week, in addition to all high school athletic events being postponed. College teams were mulling their options Wednesday and juggling start times.

While the Hurricanes’ football game at Arkansas State will not be made up because the teams don’t have a mutual open date, most other schools managed to adjust their start times to account for the incoming storm.

Florida International was scheduled to host Alcorn State on Saturday for its home opener, but that game instead will be played Friday in Birmingham, Ala., a neutral site.

Florida State moved up its 7 p.m. kickoff against Louisiana Monroe to noon. The Florida Gators did the same for their home game against Northern Colorado on Saturday.

The University of Central Florida moved its contest with Memphis from Saturday to Friday. South Florida will still host Connecticut on Saturday, but the game time was changed from noon to 10:30 a.m.