Show ’Em the Money
by Tony Basilio
Rocker Bob Seger reminded us back in the ’70s that rock ‘n’ roll never forgets. Too bad the SEC never remembers. It’s been four years since that terrible tragedy known as 9/11 transpired, and the league stubbornly insisted on forging ahead with scheduled contests, despite the enormity of the tragedy. Now in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the near-eradication of New Orleans, it seems the league is set on making yet another bull-headed, financially-motivated error in judgment.
Former league commissioner Roy Kramer is a brilliant man who grew the SEC from a fun, regional conference into the $EC, a sports behemoth that devours all that gets in its way. Kramer always carried himself and projected his league as a paragon of class. But there were times when Kramer simply failed to get it right. The 9/11 tragedy of 2001 was one of those times. As the rest of the North American sports world cancelled games in the aftermath of the terrorist strike, Kramer hung tough. Kramer insisted both publicly and privately that the right thing to do was to play the games. The games must go on, he reasoned.
Therein lies the problem. What happens when the games become more pressing than life itself? Doesn’t the diversion turn into an obsession? But despite the actions of Kramer before him, current $EC Commissioner Mike Slive has a chance to get it right.
Almost overnight, the population of Knoxville grew by twice its original size. Imagine what this would do to our infrastructure. Every available hotel room would be filled. Thompson-Boling Arena and the Civic Coliseum would be packed, not to mention the influx of relief workers who would pour into East Tennessee.
You think it’s tough getting around in rush hour traffic now? While you’re at it, go a few steps further and pretend that in the midst of this natural disaster (i.e., within a month), the University of Tennessee attempted to play a home football game. We can barely hold gameday traffic as it is.
Besides the almost incompre-hensible logistical nightmare our local government would have on its hands, let’s pile a UT home game on top of this chaos. That’s what LSU is insisting on doing with the Tigers date with Tennessee on Sept. 24. The right thing to do would be for LSU and Tennessee to swap dates. As of this writing, there is ample time to get this done. But the window on this option has seemingly closed. In fact, LSU has shut the door on any semblance of common sense relating to this contest. The game must go on.
When it became clear that LSU was hell-bent on keeping the UT game in Baton Rouge, Tennessee Athletics Director Mike Hamilton tried to get Tiger brass to compromise. Hamilton wanted the Tigers to move the kickoff up to 3:30 to give the Vols their best chance of competing. Since no hotel vacancies exist within a 200-mile radius of Baton Rouge, UT will be forced to fly in the day of the game. Once on the ground, they will literally have nowhere to go. No team hotel. No restaurant. Maybe a couple of buses. What will the Vols do? Sit around the dressing room for hours watching Dave Neal? Now, that’s torture. And a recipe for losing one’s edge.
But the scheduled nighttime kickoff enables LSU to bring the “mystique” alive on national television, as well as to show the rest of the world that they’ve moved past Katrina. It seems ironically appropriate that they call Tiger Stadium “Death Valley” at night, because fans of both schools will risk life and limb in that storm-torn region just traveling to and from the game. It will be at least a 200-mile one-way trip for most who stay overnight. Traveling several hours in a car from a game in the wee hours of the morning could be a way to add more to the list of casualties in the area.
At the end of it all, who cares about the kids, the fans and general decency? The game must go on. Not only must it go on, but it has to be at night, in Baton Rouge no less, against all better judgment. Unless Commissioner Slive intervenes, a historic occurrence will pass in Baton Rouge on Sept. 24, 2005. The $EC will get its charter member: L$U!
Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM.