Sugar Bowl decision between Atlanta, Baton Rouge

Updated: September 20, 2005, 6:42 PM ET
Associated Press

The Sugar Bowl will be played in either Baton Rouge, La., or Atlanta after being forced out of the Superdome in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

Sugar Bowl officials said Tuesday they will know in about three weeks whether Louisiana has recovered sufficiently to keep the game in the state where it has been played every year since it was established in 1935.

Tiger Stadium on the LSU campus holds almost 92,000 and would make an adequate game site, but the city of Baton Rouge has insufficient hotel rooms and infrastructure to host an event that would attract thousands on Jan.

That means New Orleans would need to be ready to house most of the fans, participants and media going to the game.

"We are going to continue to talk with city and state officials, everybody who will need to be involved in this process," Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan said in a teleconference from Chicago with BCS officials. "This is totally about New Orleans."

Atlanta already has given Sugar Bowl officials the OK to use the Georgia Dome, which hosts the Southeastern Conference championship game in December. That made Atlanta an obvious and convenient choice as a temporary home for one of college football's longest-running and most recognizable events.

The SEC has a long relationship with the Sugar Bowl, having sent its champion there for decades.

The Peach Bowl is scheduled to be played in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 30, and the Falcons have an NFL game scheduled there on Sunday, Jan. 1, but Atlanta officials have assured the Sugar Bowl that those games wouldn't interfere.

Ideally, though, bowl and BCS officials would like the Sugar Bowl to remain in Louisiana.

"We want to be part of the recovery story for the state and the Gulf region," Bowl Championship Series commissioner Kevin Weiberg said.

The game brings $150 million-$200 million in revenue to the state and city, Hoolahan said.

"We want to be able to go to the legislators, the mayor and the governor knowing that we did everything humanly possible to make it happen in the state of the Louisiana," said Hoolahan, a New Orleans resident who has relocated to Houston with his family since the storm hit Aug. 29.

One of four BCS games, the Sugar Bowl hosts the national championship game once every four years, along with the Rose, Fiesta and Orange bowls.

The Rose Bowl hosts the national title game this season. The Sugar Bowl is next slated to host the championship game after the 2007 season.

The Superdome has hosted the Sugar Bowl since 1975. Before then it was played at Tulane Stadium, starting in 1935.

Hoolahan remained positive about the possibility of playing the game in Baton Rouge, despite the fact that on Monday New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin suspended the reopening of his city and ordered nearly everyone to leave town again.

"I can't say with any level of confidence today that it won't be played in Baton Rouge," Hoolahan said.

Hoolahan estimated the Sugar Bowl needs 32,000 hotel rooms available in Baton Rouge and New Orleans for the game to be played in Louisiana. Some hotels have begun to reopen in New Orleans, but those rooms were being quickly filled by recovery and hotel employees, Hoolahan said.

And even if the rooms become available, the rest of the city must be repaired enough to keep visitors safe.

"We don't want to hamper the recovery operation in any way," Hoolahan said. "However, we want to see if there is room where we can coexist."

He said numerous other cities expressed interest in hosting the Sugar Bowl, though he did not name any.

The future of the Sugar Bowl beyond 2006 is even more uncertain, though Hoolahan said he believes the Superdome could be adequately fixed by next year.

He also spoke of the possibility of a new stadium or sports complex being built in New Orleans.

"We would like to think the new Superdome can become the economical engine of the recovery," he said.

But Sugar Bowl officials are far away from being able to even guess about where the game will be played in 2007 and beyond.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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