Storm Leaves Colleges with Tough Sports Calls
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Normally, this is one of the happiest times in the Southeast, the start of college football season. But over the past few days, university officials in the region have faced tough decisions about whether or not to put games on hold in light of Katrina's devastating aftermath. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN reporting:
To play or not to play is a conundrum that presents itself every now and then when this games-happy nation is scorched by sudden tragedy: political assassination, terrorist attack and, this week, hurricane. As Katrina's toll revealed itself early in the week, college administrators in the Southeast had to decide quickly to play or not to play, since football Saturdays often begin Thursday when the RVs start rolling into stadium parking lots.
Mr. BRUCE LUDLOW (Associate Commissioner for Communications, Southland Conference): Football is king down here. But at the same time, now that something like this has happened, it's taken a backseat to other things in life.
GOLDMAN: The decision in the Southland Conference, where Bruce Ludlow is the associate commissioner for communications, was no, at least for three games involving Louisiana-based schools. Ludlow says the game cancellations were due to practical reasons: the schools were shut down by the storm, no electricity in the local communities. Nicholls State, located about 60 miles west of New Orleans, canceled its game, even though the team was scheduled to play Utah State today in Utah, a game that would have earned Nicholls State $100,000 for playing against a school in a higher division. Bruce Ludlow.
Mr. LUDLOW: Losing the money is not that big of an issue right now. It's everything that's going on down on the coast, that's the real issues there.
GOLDMAN: Perspective in the tunnel-vision world of sports often pops up at times like this, but so, too, does the call to play on. After what university officials describe as long and difficult discussions, Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference decided to go ahead and host its seasoning opening football game tonight.
Ms. MEREDITH GUETER(ph) (Mississippi State Spokeswoman): Just as we did after 9/11, when we tried to establish a sense of normalcy for our students and give them something to get their minds off the crisis at hand.
GOLDMAN: According to Mississippi State spokeswoman Meredith Gueter, there were also practical reasons for holding the event. Government officials want students and hurricane evacuees in the university community 200 miles north of the Gulf Coast staying off the roads so they don't impede rescue efforts.
And then there's the fund-raising aspect of a major college football game, which is helping Mississippi State Professor Robert Zullo attend tonight's game with a clear conscience.
Professor ROBERT ZULLO (Mississippi State): You know, the critics are saying, `Oh, there are people who lost their lives.' But, yes, but there are people who are still living and struggling to live. And could we bring in $200,000 just in simple donations plus canned goods?
GOLDMAN: The Mississippi State Student Association planned to collect donations at the game. The University of Alabama, also hosting a game tonight, asked those traveling to the game to give up their hotel rooms to hurricane evacuees. An Alabama spokeswoman said those rooms often are booked a year in advance, but she adds there's been an overwhelmingly positive response from football fans.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.