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Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Sugar Bowl to be at LSU if hotels return

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Work crews were busy in several on New Orleans' major hotels on Wednesday, repairing damage from Hurricane Katrina.

That's good news for the Sugar Bowl.

If enough hotels in the New Orleans area are up and running by December, this year's Sugar Bowl will be played at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.

If they aren't, Atlanta's Georgia Dome would be a likely alternative, Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan is expected to tell 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 ensure that there is a Sugar Bowl this year."

Sugar Bowl officials will be anxiously watching the progress of restoring the Superdome, 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.

"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."

Bowl officials hope the state will make a quick commitment to restore the Superdome and that work will begin soon.

"Our job is to be part of the recovery of the economy," Sugar Bowl president Mark Romig 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."

The Sugar Bowl game on Jan. 2 will 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."

Neither Hoolahan nor LSU athletic director Skip Bertman see any problem with playing the game at Tiger Stadium. 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.

Many of the major hotels in New Orleans hope to complete repairs and be ready for business soon.

"If they operating, they're going to need customers," Hoolahan said. "We can provide that."

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.

Birmingham's Legion Field is another possibility, but that stadium lacks amenities such as luxury suites.

Wherever the game is played, the Sugar Bowl would have no problem meeting its financial obligation to stage it, Hoolahan said.

"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."