The Sun Belt Conference and the University of New Orleans are discussing whether athletes in sports that straddle two semesters, such as men's basketball, should consider enrolling at another institution if they want to compete in 2005-06.
Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters, who held a media conference call Friday to discuss the condition of the conference office that had to be moved from New Orleans to Lafayette, La., said he spoke with UNO athletic director Jim Miller about making plans for winter sport teams in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans.
"The decision as to whether UNO will be open this spring hasn't been made,'' said Waters, essentially conceding that the fall semester would be lost. "We talked that it would be in everybody's best interest that the sports that go over a semester should enroll somewhere else to get them practicing and start working on making arrangements as to where the games in the fall [November and December] would be played.''
Attempts to reach New Orleans athletic director Jim Miller and men's basketball coach Monte Towe have been unsuccessful since cell phones with New Orleans prefixes aren't working yet.
Waters said Miller and the UNO administrative officials were due to meet in Baton Rouge on Friday to discuss a plan.
Waters said he and Miller discussed how the conference would treat UNO if it doesn't have school this semester. The NCAA issued a release Thursday in which it detailed how it would relax rules for those affected by the storm. Aid for the students will be allowed, as will the academic rules for students to compete since some at UNO and Tulane might play without being in school or even compete with little schooling whenever they get into a college this fall.
Waters said Miller told him that there was damage on the UNO campus. Lakefront Arena, according to Waters, is five miles from the 17th Street Canal levee that broke, flooding the city.
"Jim told us that there is water up to the doors of Lakefront Arena. Whether it got in or not he didn't know,'' Waters said. "That's all the information we have. Like everyone else, we're trying to watch TV and figure out where our houses are and what it looks like.''
Waters said there was damage to South Alabama's campus in Mobile, but athletic director Joe Gottfried told Waters the school would be up and running soon and that it would still host the Sun Belt's soccer championship.
"UNO is quite another thing,'' Waters said. "UNO is right in the middle of an awful lot of problems in New Orleans.''
Waters said that there have been discussions about New Orleans' teams moving to another school in the conference.
"If that's the direction that UNO goes, then we will make arrangements,'' Waters said. "We have discussed a number of schools in the league like [Arkansas] Little Rock, FIU [Florida International], which is a little bit of stretch and a number of other schools have extended to take their students like Middle Tennessee State. MTSU would give a tuition waiver like LSU extended to students from New Orleans.''
Meanwhile, the Sun Belt offices should be running early next week out of Louisiana-Lafayette. Waters said the conference has rented executive suites for the staff to live in the area but that they're taking it "day by day.''
Waters said the conference has to tend to its business of certifying athletes for fall sports and running championship events. They hope to be able to do that by next week.
"We have to maintain the service to the membership,'' said Waters. "How soon we get back to New Orleans and see about our office and homes we just don't know.''
Waters said the conference's problems pale in comparison to those of the people of New Orleans but there are some trivial, albeit basic issues for the conference to solve. For one, its database is in New Orleans, meaning basics like the history of the league and media guides are all possibly damaged in the storm.
The Sun Belt has eight Division I-A football members: Florida Atlantic, Florida International, North Texas, Troy, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State.
The University of New Orleans, Denver, South Alabama and Western Kentucky compete in the league in other sports.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.