Katrina: Impact on College and Pro Sports
We noted the other day that the Atlanta Braves’ AA team, the Mississippi Braves, were facing cancelation of their season owing to hurricane damage. This appears to be the least of the impact on major sporting events, with NCAA teams as well as the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and NBA’s New Orleans Hornets affected.
The biggest impact, of course, is the same as for other victims of the hurricane: on the families.
A few Tulane players who had families in the path of Hurricane Katrina have not been able to reach their relatives. Football players at LSU, Southeast Louisiana and Southern have also been affected.
Tulane’s football camp has relocated from Jackson, Miss., to Dallas, but team spokesman John Sudsbury said several players are still concerned they have not been able to reach family and friends. “They’re sure they’ve lost their homes but they don’t know what else they may have lost,” Sudsbury said. Linebacker Brandon Spincer (New Orleans) cannot reach his brother, quarterback Lester Ricard (Denham Springs, La.) cannot reach his uncle and wide receiver Kenneth Guidroz (Port Sulphur, La.) is trying to reach his family and has heard that his uncle was rescued from a roof. “We’ve got a bunch of kids who know they won’t have homes to return to,” Bonnette said. “There is no way to communicate. We have kids who don’t know if their families are alive or dead. We see the pictures. They see their streets and they think their house is under water. But they really don’t know.”
For once, the NCAA is not going to be stupid in how it deals with something:
NCAA president Myles Brand said his organization would accomodate the unique circumstances of athletes affected by the hurricane. “The first priority of those schools caught in Katrina’s path is the students, staff and families who have been put in harm’s way,” Brand said. “The NCAA will be working with conference offices to deal with reduced or lost athletics schedules, the ability of teams to host or travel for competition, and championship qualification.”
The NCAA wants university officials and student-athletes to focus on recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina rather than worry about infractions, schedule changes or travel restrictions. To help, college athletics’ governing body may temporarily adjust some of its most restrictive rules.
Steve Mallonee, the NCAA’s managing director for membership services, said Wednesday the NCAA is willing to give athletes and universities more latitude to travel, provide more benefits to athletes’ families and even allow students to compete without attending classes because of the storm that devastated the Gulf Coast. “Any rule that can negatively impact an institution or the student-athletes, I think we’ll be proactive in,” Mallonee told The Associated Press. “The message we’d like is that we have a process that can and will be flexible to any of our institutions that are impacted.” Other potential changes include moving games to different venues, extending seasons, and possibly allowing athletes’ families to stay on campuses.
In past years, schools have postponed or canceled games because of hurricanes and other inclement weather. The NCAA allowed some games to be rescheduled, and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the nation’s college games were postponed — and most were rescheduled.
Still, the NCAA has a reputation for its rigid stances. The 2003 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were not delayed by the start of the Iraq war, the 1981 NCAA championship was played the night President Reagan was shot and some people have complained the organization is prone to following the letter of its voluminous rule book rather than the intent. But, the NCAA has never faced anything like this.
The professional sports have many of the same issues plus the fact that rescheduling games is even more of a nightmare given that all of the games are on television. Not to mention the ethical-emotional dilemma of when it’s okay to resume normal activities in the face of tragedy.
Though the Saints are safe in California while Hurricane Katrina ravages New Orleans, receiver Joe Horn plans to use some of the team’s three days off this weekend to visit his beleaguered hometown. “I was going to keep that quiet,” Horn said Wednesday in the lobby of the Saints’ team hotel on the eve of their preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders. “I’m going to try to help, donate money, try to feed the families who have been in the Superdome, do whatever it takes. “If I have to spend a million dollars to get food, anything monetarily, I’ll do that.”
According to general manager Mickey Loomis, the Saints will fly directly to San Antonio following the game against the Raiders, and will remain there to prepare for the season opener Sept. 11 at Carolina.
During a team meeting Monday, a few players questioned whether playing a game at this time was appropriate — but most players thought it might be a morale booster for the city flooded by the hurricane. “It might be a ray of light for the people who can’t get out of town,” tight end Shad Meier said. “As football players, as a team, I think this game is going to be good for us,” Horn said. “We’ve got to give our fans something, something to look forward to. At least they’ll know that we’re going to go out there and play as hard and the best we can to show the fans that we love them. “In this business, the NFL must go on. That’s just the way it is. The games are going to be played, regardless.”
Displaced by the fury of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints will set up shop, at least temporarily, in San Antonio for a second straight year. Where the franchise will play what now appears likely to be a home-away-from-home regular-season schedule, though, has yet to be determined. “All options are under consideration,” Saints director of media relations Greg Bensel said about where New Orleans might play its home games. “It’s all on the table and there will continue to be discussions. But, for now, nothing is decided.”
What the team does know is that it will practice in San Antonio for the foreseeable future. The Saints will fly to San Antonio following Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders, will be reunited there with their families, and begin preparations for the Sept. 11 season opener at Carolina. The Saints have spent this week practicing in San Jose, Calif. The Saints practiced for three days in San Antonio last year when they were forced to flee New Orleans in advance of Hurricane Ivan. The club will be housed in downtown hotels but a practice site has yet to be determined. The practice sites in San Antonio still under consideration include, but are not limited to, the Alamodome and the San Antonio School District Spring Sports Complex. San Antonio officials were at work Wednesday trying to determine which sites would be available to, and most appropriate for, the Saints. It is likely that the Saints will return to San Antonio even after the season opener in Carolina, and one club source said the plan is to be there for at least two weeks and likely longer.
As for home games, Mike Abington, director of the Alamodome, was checking on the facility’s available dates, in the event the Saints need to play there. There were rumors that New Orleans would play its Sept. 18 home opener against the New York Giants in San Antonio and then move subsequent home games to LSU. League officials, who prefer the Saints play their games as close to New Orleans as possible, were in contact on Tuesday with LSU officials. There was even some preliminary discussion about playing home games at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
San Antonio city councilman Roger Flores told the Express-News newspaper that he had apprised Saints officials on Tuesday that the city would attempt to accommodate the club if a move were necessary. Saints owner Tom Benson, once one of San Antonio’s biggest car dealers, still has strong ties to the city’s business communities. “Mr. Benson has been an integral part of our business community,” Flores said. “We also have a fan base that should provide them with some measure of success financially.”
In a rather ominous statement, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said Wednesday that Doug Thornton, a regional vice president for the company that manages the Superdome, told him it will be “very, very difficult” for the Saints to play home games there this season. League officials pointed out that New Orleans has just one home game in September and were holding out hope the schedule might allow repairs by the season’s second month. But even if that were the case, the general conditions in New Orleans, where 80 percent of the city is under water and electricity might not be restored for a month or more, could make a home schedule untenable. Nagin on Tuesday night estimated that, with the recent breaches to levees around town, it could take at least three months to have New Orleans up and running again in anything remotely resembling normalcy.
Even more problematic is that the Saints have been looking for a replacement stadium for years. It’s difficult to imagine that the residents of New Orleans are going to be in a mood to pony up hundreds of millions to rebuild or replace the Superdome anytime soon. It’s even more difficult to imagine the team using a tragedy of this proportion as an excuse to relocate to another city, most obviously Los Angeles.
Some members of the New Orleans Hornets’ front office have relocated to Houston and are working out of the Toyota Center. “Our staff is kind of scattered around the country, but we have about 15 members in Houston,” Hornets chief marketing officer Tim McDougall told Houston television station KRIV on Wednesday. “The Rockets have been generous enough to give us some office space to work out of. … The things we are focused on right now are just making sure our staff is OK and safe.”
Members of the Hornets’ staff have set up in a conference room with computers and telephones. “It’s great to at least to be able to lend a helping hand — make them feel like they have a home away from home for a little while and give them as much support as we possibly can,” Rockets senior vice president of marketing and sales Tad Brown told the TV station.
Also, The New York Times reported on its Web site on Wednesday night that NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik sent an e-mail to all the teams in the NBA to prepare them for the possible relocation of the Hornets. “Even if the arena is operable, it still may be impossible to play games in New Orleans for some time,” Granik wrote in the e-mail message, a copy of which was obtained by the Times.
Obviously, the fate of the Saints and (especially) Hornets are low priorities for New Orleans residents right now. Still, having teams to rally around may be just what the doctor ordered at a time like this.
crosspost to OTB-BS