Sugar Bowl seeking temporary home
Wednesday, 09/14, 3:50 p.m.
By Ted Lewis
If enough hotels in the New Orleans area can be up and running by December, this year’s Sugar Bowl will be played at LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
If not, an alternative site, most likely Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, can be utilized.
That’s the message Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan and president Mark Romig plan to give to the commissioners of the 11 Division I-A conferences at a BCS meeting Tuesday in Chicago.
“Obviously, this will not be a normal New Orleans Sugar Bowl experience,” said Hoolahan, who got his first look at the bowl offices in the Superdome on Wednesday. “But I think everyone will take a little disruption, maybe more than a little disruption, to get this done.
“Our preference is to play the game in Louisiana, because the Sugar Bowl is a Louisiana event. But we are pursuing a parallel track to insure that there is a Sugar Bowl this year.”
In the long term, however, the future of the bowl, which was first played in 1935, will depend on how quickly the Superdome is restored to playing status, something that is expected to take at least a year.
The new BCS contract cycle begins in 2006. The Sugar Bowl is scheduled to play host not only to the national championship game after the 2007 season but the “regular” Sugar Bowl under the double-hosting format that starts next season.
Hoolahan said playing the game anywhere but New Orleans would be difficult beyond 2006.
That could mean the BCS awarding the Sugar Bowl spot in the championship rotation to another bowl.
Last year -- before a decision was made to keep the title game among the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta bowls -- several other bowls, including the Gator, Cotton, Peach and Capitol One, had put in bids for what was being called the “fifth BCS bowl.”
“I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you I’m feeling the pressure,” Hoolahan said. “And I’d be foolish not to acknowledge that the commissioners don’t have some of those thoughts in their minds right now.
“So we’re already protecting our flanks. The best way to do that is a commitment to rebuild the Superdome bigger and better, and I am fully confident that the state will do that.”
Romig added that the Sugar Bowl committee is dedicated to continuing the game at the highest level.
“Our job is to be part of the recovery of the economy,” he said. “We realize that there will have to be a reassessment of the Superdome and issues like rebuilding the levees will take first priority.
“But it is our hope that major league football remains in New Orleans on both the college and professional level. I don’t want to speculate any more beyond this year, except to say that the Sugar Bowl will still be around.”
For now, though, the focus is on this season’s game, scheduled for Jan. 2. The game would match the SEC champion -- provided that team is not playing for the BCS championship in the Rose Bowl -- and an at-large team.
“Our priority is this season and doing all we can to help the Sugar Bowl be part of the recovery of New Orleans,” said Big 12 commissioner and BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg. “But it’s far too early to speculate on anything beyond this season.”
Hoolahan has been in discussions with LSU athletic director Skip Bertman about playing this season’s game at Tiger Stadium and neither see any problem with the use of facilities or preparing the stadium for the game.
The problem is hotel space. Sugar Bowl fans normally occupy up to 30,000 hotel rooms in New Orleans, something the Baton Rouge area couldn’t approach even if every available room weren’t being used by those displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
But, Hoolahan said, many of the major hotels in New Orleans have indicated their desire to return to business as soon as possible.
“If they operating, they’re going to need customers,” he said. “We can provide that.
“In fact, we would be honoring our original charter, which was to promote tourism in New Orleans during a normally slow time, and it’s certainly going to be a heck of a lot slower for a while.”
That would leave working out the logistics of transporting fans to the game.
“We might have to spread the party between New Orleans and Baton Rouge,” Romig said. “But everybody is dedicating their hearts and minds towards getting this done.”
However, if there are insufficient hotel rooms, an alternate site within the SEC would be found.
Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla., have been those most prominently mentioned, but Jacksonville appears out because Jan. 2 is also the date of the Gator Bowl, making hotel space unavailable.
The Peach Bowl in Atlanta is scheduled for Dec. 30, largely eliminating the hotel space problem.
Georgia Dome general manager Kahlil Johnson said Wednesday his office has not been contacted by either the Sugar Bowl or SEC, but that his facility would be available.
Birmingham’s Legion Field is another possibility, but that stadium lacks amenities such as luxury suites.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the league’s preferences mirror that of the Sugar Bowl’s.
“The Sugar Bowl and the SEC share a long, rich tradition,” he said. “We want to see the game remain in Louisiana if at all possible.”
Slive also said that, while there is no firm date on when a decision would have to be made on the site of the game, he felt that a much clearer picture would be available by next week’s BCS meeting.
“When we have enough accurate information to develop a business plan, we will make a decision,” Hoolahan said. “It basically will be made jointly with the SEC, and we feel that the other commissioners will go along with us.”
SEC assistant commissioner Mark Womack is heading a subcommittee acting as liaison to the Sugar Bowl.
Hoolahan, who evacuated to Houston with his family, also said that wherever the game is played, the Sugar Bowl would have no problem meeting its financial obligation to stage the game.
“The Sugar Bowl isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “The Sugar Bowl is synonymous with New Orleans, and we are totally invested in rebuilding the Superdome.
“This is an opportunity to look at a new beginning for New Orleans. We want to be part of that.”
Ted Lewis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 232-5071.