Wave of support
Among the debris that was flung far and wide by Hurricane Katrina's mighty winds, perhaps nothing was scattered about more than Tulane's football team.
Like the Saints, who called San Antonio -- not New Orleans -- home for much of the NFL season, and the Hornets, who turned to Oklahoma City for a place to play their NBA games, Tulane's sports teams were forced to hit the road in the wake of Katrina's wrath.
|CARRYING THE TORCH|
|Aug. 28||Jackson, Miss.||Team evacuates New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Katrina|
|Aug. 31||Dallas||Unable to return home, team moves to Dallas hotel.|
|Sept. 7||Ruston, La.||Team relocates to upstate Louisiana; players attend classes at Texas Tech.|
|Sept. 17||Shreveport, La.||With Superdome damaged, Wave opens season at Independence Bowl with 21-14 loss to Mississippi State.|
|Sept. 24||Dallas||Wave heads back to Dallas for game relocated to SMU. Win first game, 31-10.|
|Oct. 1||Baton Rouge||Eighty miles from campus, Wave defeats SE Louisiana, 28-21 in homecoming game.|
|Oct. 8||Lafayette, La.||Another rescheduled Superdome game, Houston beats Tulane, 35-14.|
|Oct. 14||Ruston, La.||UTEP beats Tulane, 45-21, in Wave's "home game."|
|Oct. 21||Orlando, Fla.||Central Florida beats Tulane 34-24. Wave falls to 2-4.|
|Oct. 29||Mobile, Ala.||Another home game in another town, and another loss for Tulane, which fell 27-26 to Marshall.|
|Nov. 5||Annapolis, Md.||Navy picks up the $200,000 bill for Tulane's traveling costs, then beats home-team Wave 49-21.|
|Nov. 12||Houston||Rice beats Tulane, 42-34.|
|Nov. 19||Monroe, La.||Tulsa defeats Tulane, 38-14.|
|Nov. 26||Hattiesburg, Miss||Nomadic Wave end wrap up season with 26-7 loss at Southern Miss.|
The team's real homecoming comes next week. After attending fall classes at Louisiana Tech, in upstate Ruston, the players can return to Tulane's storm-ravaged campus in New Orleans for the start of the spring semester on Jan. 17.
"We didn't lose a player, a coach, a manager or a wife," Green Wave coach Chris Scelfo said with a laugh, after his team finished a 2-9 season with its eighth-straight loss.
The city that surrounds the campus is still struggling, and Tulane isn't what it used to be either. When the school reopens, there will be 230 fewer professors and some 4,000 fewer students. And, in an effort to keep the athletic department out of the red, there will be fewer athletes, too. The school cut eight of its 16 sports teams a month ago, a decision that weighed heavily on Green Wave athletic director Rick Dickson, who had to deliver the bad news to the affected players.
"Today, I will face more than 100 of the best ambassadors this university has and tell them that there are no longer opportunities for them as student-athletes at Tulane University," he said. "Their athletic careers ... are victims of Hurricane Katrina."
That the football and basketball teams remain intact could be vital to the school's recovery, which will cost approximately $200 million, according to school officials. Tulane president Scott Cowen, for one, insists that the school's sports teams are more important than ever. They carry the torch, as he likes to say.
"It's like having a house with a front porch," Cowen said. "You can live without a front porch, but it certainly adds to the ambiance if you have one. Athletics is our front porch. It adds a spirit, a sense of identity and it can serve a very useful role as long as it is secondary to the academic mission of the university."
National interest in New Orleans' recovery has waned since nonstop, around-the-clock news coverage of the single most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history dominated media coverage in late August and early September. But with each game played, the school's story is retold time and again, proving an effective publicity tool for the cash-strapped school. Since Katrina, the school's name has appeared in the media more than 52 million times, according to Cowen.
"That doesn't even include game stories," said Donna Turner, the school's associate athletic director. "It's just feature stories on our teams since the hurricane."
|POWER OF THE BOOSTERS|
It's a love-hate relationship that binds a college and its boosters. They are often the first ones pointed to when recruiting violations surface. And the first ones called upon when facilities need an upgrade. With their money comes their two cents. Some call it influence. Others say it's meddling. ESPN.com examines the role of the college booster:
"Quite frankly, if we had just sent our kids home [before the hurricane], I don't know if we could have continued," Dickson told ESPN.com after the football team's season-ending loss at Southern Miss. "We might've sealed our fate right there. Instead, we showed that we're here, we're together, let's see this thing through.
"Every Tulaner out there, whether they're sports people or not, knew we were out there."
The Tulane Athletics Fund, the fund-raising arm of the Green Wave athletic department, delivered another reminder when it announced a post-Katrina drive on Dec. 27: Until year's end, donations made to the school were free of IRS limitations under the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act.
It is not yet known how much that last push has raised, school officials say.
The school's athletic teams also are filling a needed void in the New Orleans' sports landscape. With the future of the city's professional sports uncertain, Tulane's sports teams are providing weary residents a much-needed diversion from the city's slow-moving revitalization. No matter where they play, each player's uniform sported a commemorative patch of a modified Tulane shield that included the New Orleans skyline and outlined with the words, "The Torch," "The Face" and "The Name."
"Given that professional sports are not in New Orleans this year, we feel that we can provide our city with something to rally around and cheer for," Cowen said.
Like the football team, Tulane's women's basketball team had been on the road since flood waters chased it from town. The team fled almost 900 miles away to Lubbock, Texas, where the players attended classes at Texas Tech.
The Lady Green Wave was the first of Tulane's teams to return home when it beat Central Connecticut State, 72-60, at Fogelman Arena on Dec. 27. It was the first post-Katrina game in New Orleans, and Ashley Langford, a freshman guard from Harrisburg, Pa., had a message.
"This lets everybody know, 'We're fine. We're OK,' " she told ESPN.com. "Tulane University is going to be back. The city of New Orleans is going to be back.
"It just gives people some hope."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business can be reached at Darren.email@example.com. Reporting by ESPN.com's Pat Forde and Wayne Drehs contributed to this report.