From Chaos, Conference USA
Conference Commissioner Britton Banowsky talks about the days and decisions in Katrina's wake
Tulane's Jovon Jackson and his teammates will return to the field on Sept. 17 in Shreveport's Independence Stadium.
Sept. 11, 2005
Big Game For The Big Easy: Special Coverage|
By Jessica Garrison
College sports commissioners have plenty of worst nightmares, NCAA rule violations and corruption among them. The destruction and devastation of Hurricane Katrina, however, makes those nightmares pale in comparison, as schools and their communities were virtually wiped off the map by the storm's fury.
At a time when college sports seemed like the least important consideration, CUSA commissioner Britton Banowsky and
With the magnitude of disaster that Katrina created, "there are contingency plans for keeping people alive," Banowsky said. "There are no contingency plans for how you keep a sports program alive."
Banowsky was at the center of the effort to do both those things - to find new homes and relief for the student athletes displaced by the storm, and to determine whether it was advisable, even possible, to continue their fall seasons. Now, it seems, the Tulane show will go on. On the road, in fact.
CUSA officials knew that Katrina was going to dramatically affect the
Banowsky remembers spending all day Tuesday trying to contact Tulane AD Rick Dickson to no avail. Dickson eventually got a call out to Banowsky by collecting cell phones of his group of evacuees and trying each of them until one non-local number got through (all cell phones with the 504
Dickson and the Tulane football team had followed a plan that sent them to
Banowsky, meanwhile worked with the president of Southern Methodist University, R. Gerald Turner, in Dallas, to relocate the evacuees there. Busses came from
The evacuees arrived in
Cut off from phone service and all power, the student athletes had missed all of the news and images the rest of the country had been watching. From their hotel, they saw the scenes of their school, their homes and possessions, destroyed.
The first concern of the Tulane coaches and CUSA officials was to restore whatever sense of normalcy they could to the student-athletes' lives.
"We got them into a practice routine at SMU," Banowsky said. "Everyone stepped up. Jerry Jones stepped up and they went to a Cowboys' game Thursday night."
By Friday, Banowsky started to make contact with Tulane's administrators, who had evacuated to
"It became apparent that we could keep these teams together and even play," Banowsky said, with a quiet air of triumph in his voice. Continuing the fall season would give Tulane a public face even with the campus deserted, keeping one part of the university community alive while the rest healed. The difficult decision, in hindsight, was not whether to keep fall sports alive, but how to make it happen.
Originally, CUSA officials hoped to take advantage of offers from the
Instead, Tulane teams have been dispersed between four schools: men's and women's golf at SMU, Texas A&M playing host to men's basketball, volleyball, soccer and swim teams, Texas Tech has become home to women's basketball and baseball, and Louisiana Tech, with a recently closed dorm available for reopening, took in the Green Wave football team.
Now that each teams' basic needs are being met, officials are turning their attention to the many details still left unresolved - everything from practice and game sites to team uniforms has to be replaced. In the case of Tulane football, the team's season opener with
Other concerns, such as student-athletes defecting to other schools in the wake of the disaster, were taken up by the NCAA. Under the direction of Miles Brand, the NCAA kept the league's strict transfer rules in effect, declaring "athletic looting" of affected schools intolerable.
"The college athletics community is a family that takes care of each other," Banowsky said. Indeed, in addition to the offers of housing and enrollment that schools have tendered, some schools are offering financial help.
Beyond these logistical decisions, "it's all the human side here," Banowsky said. Although no athlete or coach connected to Tulane has reportedly lost a close family member in the disaster, Banowsky and other officials "became aware that there would be an emotional impact, needs of these people that had to be met." With help from other university experts, officials are also looking into broad strategy for counseling.
For now, "No coaches, to my knowledge, disagreed" with the decision to continue the Tulane season, Banowsky said. "The kids are unbelievable. That team is strong."
Strong enough to survive their own worst nightmare.
Jessica Garrison is an Assistant Editor for CSTV.com and will be on assignment in