As the scope of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina continued to widen yesterday, the sports world responded with scrambling efforts to relocate the displaced and restructure its schedules and rules for circumstances few could have imagined.
Colleges and universities in several southern states sought to help those unable to return home or with no homes to return to. On the Louisiana State campus in Baton Rouge, representatives of all 20 of the school's athletic teams have assisted the Red Cross tend to victims, and the athletic departments at Alabama and Mississippi State urged fans planning to attend games on those campuses tomorrow to relinquish their hotel reservations so the rooms could be used to shelter refugees.
LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center has been turned into a triage unit, where at least one men's basketball player stayed until 3 a.m. to work with injured people who were taken out of dozens of ambulances, the school said. Inside the center, coaches washed linens and clothes for victims. Representatives from others teams folded clothes. Greg Stringfellow, an LSU equipment manager, estimated he washed 4,000 pounds of linens Tuesday and 10,000 pounds Wednesday.
The LSU football team, whose home game Saturday against North Texas has been canceled, visited Baton Rouge River Center to spend time with displaced families. Players brought T-shirts, posters and signed autographs for children.
"We had a Red Cross lady come up to us and talk about what a great thing it was that we were there," senior center Rudy Niswanger said in a statement. "It really made me think that we were only there for 45 minutes signing things and passing out shirts and this lady is going to be there 24 hours a day for the next three weeks probably. And she is talking about what a great thing it is we are doing?"
At the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Athletic Director Mal Moore sent an e-mail Wednesday asking 50,000 Alabama fans and season ticket holders to assist evacuees who may be trying to stay in area hotels. Like many football programs, Alabama houses its players in a hotel the night before a home game, but Moore said that only about half of the team will stay in a hotel tonight to allow more rooms for the displaced.
"Everyone is starting to accept the fact that this is a long-term deal and these people are in a tough situation," Moore said by telephone. "The whole city, the university included, is doing everything we can in support."
Moore estimated that some 500 displaced individuals are staying at Alabama Student Recreation Center, which typically is used for pickup basketball games and other sports. The campus shelter was set up Sunday, and Moore plans to set up a big-screen television in the recreation area for tomorrow's football game.
The football teams from Tulane and Southern Mississippi, whose game Sunday has been postponed, also find themselves in temporary homes. Tulane's football team has relocated to Dallas, sharing facilities with Southern Methodist; Southern Mississippi relocated to the University of Memphis.
Early assessments of Southern Mississippi's M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg indicate it is not significantly damaged, Conference USA spokeswoman Courtney Archer said. The Golden Eagles' next game, at Alabama on Sept. 10, will be played as scheduled, officials from Alabama and Conference USA said.
The future of the Sugar Bowl, held annually in the Superdome in New Orleans, is less certain. Bowl Championship Series spokesman Bob Burda said BCS Commissioner Kevin Weiberg has communicated with Sugar Bowl President Mark Romig about the feasibility of playing the game, scheduled for Jan. 2, this season.
"Their hope," Burda said, "is to still be able to play the game in the dome, but it's too early to tell if that is going to be possible."
The NBA's New Orleans Hornets have set up temporary headquarters in the offices of the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center in Houston. The Hornets are in the process of figuring out what to do about training camp, which was scheduled to open Oct. 3 in Westwego, a suburb of New Orleans. The team's preseason will open Oct. 13 at Denver.
The Hornets are scheduled to play preseason games at New Orleans Arena on Oct. 20 and Oct. 24, but those games likely will need to be moved. The NBA sent out an e-mail message Wednesday telling the league's 30 teams to prepare for the Hornets' possible relocation for the entire 2005-06 season, which will tip off Nov. 1.
Hornets Chief Marketing Officer Tim McDougall said the Hornets would prefer to remain close to New Orleans. One possibility is that the team could play on the campus of LSU, which is about 75 miles away.
Meantime, college and high school athletic officials began to address questions that have virtually no precedent. The NCAA announced it will relax some of its rules for the cases of hurricane victims, allowing them to accept benefits from schools and even boosters and allowing them to compete even if they are not fulfilling the full-time enrollment requirements.
"The effects of this disaster are outside the scope of the intentions of NCAA bylaws," said Steve Mallonee, NCAA managing director of membership services. "The normal activities of athletics programs do not apply to those affected by the hurricane and, therefore, the normal application of NCAA rules doesn't work."
Similarly, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association decided Wednesday to allow students who fled damaged areas to transfer to other schools within the state and be immediately eligible to compete.
"It's not going to be easy," said LHSAA Commissioner Tommy Henry, who said coaches are not allowed to recruit students to their schools. "We're going to be leave it to the discretion of the principal and integrity of that school to make his or her best effort to meet eligibility requirements."
Of the 411 public and private schools overseen by the LHSAA, 117 are located in the New Orleans area. Those schools are expected to be closed between 16 and 24 weeks, school administrators said. When schools reopen, Henry said they will be eligible to compete for the playoffs.
"New Orleans athletics may be doomed for a quite a long time," LHSAA Vice President Kim Gaspard said. "On the priority scale, athletics is less and less important."
Staff writers Ivan Carter and Judith Evans contributed to this report.