Even at full strength, the Florida A&M Rattlers figured to have their hands full during Saturday's matchup against the ACC's North Carolina Tar Heels, but they reportedly will be far from it.
According to ESPN's Pete Thamel, a FAMU spokesperson said the program will be down 20 players because of eligibility issues. What's more, it will have just eight eligible offensive linemen.
Competing without 20 players will be a daunting task for the Rattlers, and the idea of canceling the game surely came to mind for some.
Thamel shared a statement from head coach Willie Simmons suggesting university leadership may have talked the players into playing:
Pete Thamel @PeteThamel
Statement from FAMU coach Willie Simmons to ESPN: “After final certification of our entire team late last night, we were made aware that 7 of our Offensive Lineman were deemed ineligible. When you consider that 3 others are nursing injuries, that only leaves us with 7 healthy…
David Hale of ESPN pointed out canceling would mean the program would have to forfeit the payout it will receive from North Carolina, face a cancellation penalty and lose any travel fees it has already paid—approximately one-tenth of its annual athletics budget.
C.L. Brown of the Charlotte Observer noted North Carolina will pay FAMU $450,000 for the game. What's more, Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown pushed for the Rattlers to bring their famed marching band.
"The Marching 100s is one of the best bands ever—it may be the best," Brown said. "They've played at the Grammys, they've played at a Super Bowl, and they're gonna play in pregame by themselves and then with our band, and then the same at halftime. So everybody needs to get there early. And make sure we honor the Marching 100 and enjoy and appreciate their band."
Florida A&M impressed last season at 9-3, finishing strong after a 1-2 start. Saturday's game represented an opportunity for it to make a statement on a national stage, especially after head coach and quarterbacks coach Willie Simmons named former Hawaii and Vanderbilt quarterback Jeremy Moussa as the Rattlers' starter.
As for the Tar Heels, they are looking to bounce back from a 6-7 season and perhaps win double-digit games for just the second time since the 1997 season.
They will need to win if they plan on doing that since they will still have to face Notre Dame, Miami, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and North Carolina State.