Shutdown forces Rochester to find new homecoming opponent

By JIM MANDELARO | USA Today | Published: October 9, 2013

As a head football coach, Scott Greene's job is to prepare for any possible situation. But there's nothing in the University of Rochester (N.Y.) playbook under "game canceled, government shutdown."

"It's pretty unfortunate," Greene said Tuesday after it was announced that the NCAA Division III Yellowjackets' homecoming game with the Merchant Marine Academy has been canceled. The football game traditionally is the centerpiece of Meliora Weekend, the annual gathering of alumni, family and friends. University officials expect around 9,000 visitors this weekend.

Those who venture to Fauver Stadium at 1 p.m. ET will see Rochester play football, but the opponent will be Alfred State (N.Y.), a provisional NCAA Division III member. UR athletics director George Vander Zwaag made contact with Alfred State AD Jennifer Enke, and the two arranged for Saturday's game.

UR is 2-2 and Alfred State 2-3.

"It was kind of shocking at first, but we're all glad we get to play this weekend," says UR senior linebacker Zach Cicero. "It's not a conference opponent, but we'll treat it like a regular game and come out ready to go."

The government shutdown has forced Kings Point, N.Y.-based Merchant Marine to furlough its civilian employees, including coaches and athletics administrators. The Mariners football team hasn't played since Sept. 28, a 24-8 loss to Hobart (N.Y.). Their game last week at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., was postponed. About 4,000 alums were expected to attend that homecoming game, which has been rescheduled for Nov. 2, a common open date for the teams.

"If the government is still closed at that point, we've got much bigger problems on our hands," RPI athletics director Jim Knowlton quipped to the Albany Business Review.

The University of Rochester chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity alumni association offered to pay for the Merchant Marine football team to travel to Rochester and pay for the coaches' salaries, but the offer was never acknowledged.

"We did not hear back from them, and that's unfortunate," said director Bob Hartz. "I'm happy for UR that there will be a homecoming football game, but I'm also feeling bad for the Merchant Marine football team and its coaches. Those players put a lot of time and energy into practice and prepping for games to have a season cut short by the government's shortcomings."

Army, Navy and Air Force received exemptions from the Department of Defense to play last week. The status of their games this week — Air Force hosts San Diego State in a Mountain West Conference game Thursday; Saturday, Navy visits Duke and Army hosts Eastern Michigan for its homecoming — remained undetermined Tuesday afternoon. The Merchant Marine operates under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Greene said UR and Alfred State have exchanged game film to help prepare for Saturday's unexpected encounter.

"For our players, it's not a big deal," Greene said. "For us coaches, it's about trying to figure out a game plan."

Greene does not expect Rochester to make up the game with Merchant Marine — a Liberty League game — because the teams do not have a common open week the rest of the season.

Jim Mandelaro also writes for the Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.), a Gannett property.

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