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Sugar Bowl to be at LSU if hotels return

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."