BATON ROUGE, La. -- Joe Alleva needed only one chat with South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner to know that Alleva's school might be hosting a football game this weekend.
The conversation between Alleva, LSU’s athletic director, and his longtime friend made it clear that the effects of last week’s devastating floods in South Carolina might force the schools to move the game away from Columbia, South Carolina.
“I kind of got the idea on Monday that this may happen when Ray Tanner called me and asked about the possibilities of us hosting the game here,” Alleva said Wednesday after a news conference where he discussed the decision to move the game to Baton Rouge. “I could just tell by his voice that they were in trouble and we may have to do this.”
The state is indeed in trouble, with several areas in South Carolina overwhelmed by historic volumes of rain. With dams across the state still in vulnerable positions, the last thing South Carolina needed to do was devote resources to a football game that are best used elsewhere.
“What ends up happening is there’s such a tax on first responders that you can’t use the police and the emergency medical people in or around a football game or get traffic to and from based on some of the issues that were caused by the flooding,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “And if you got all the emergency medical there, then how could they serve the people that needed it? So I certainly understand the decision to move it and I think logistically, I think we had the greatest desire and want to help.”
That’s what LSU will attempt to do on Saturday, extending courtesies to the Gamecocks that visitors typically wouldn’t receive at rowdy Tiger Stadium. LSU’s band is learning South Carolina’s game-day music -- including the Gamecocks’ fight song whose lyrics were written by Paul Dietzel, who coached at both school -- and LSU even plans to play “Sandstorm” over the loudspeakers, just like they do in South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium.
“Our goal is to make South Carolina feel at home,” Alleva said. “We want our fans to make them feel at home. We really hope our fans come out and support this game and support both teams.”
If any school understands how to handle this kind of situation, it ought to be LSU. The Tigers had to move or reschedule three different games in 2005 after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“It’s never easy and it’s never the same, but we at least understand some of the basic factors that we have to look into: what has to happen, who is responsible for doing what situations within our own facility,” LSU senior associate athletic director Eddie Nunez said. “We had a good understanding for what we needed to do to try to make it happen. The question was were we going to have the resources and the manpower to be able to make this game happen.”
The first step was squaring away public-safety workers to handle police and traffic duties. Alleva and Nunez credited state and local law agencies for committing the several hundred officers necessary for game day.
Next came a variety of logistical issues like ticketing, concessions and a thousand other questions.
Will LSU now be able to treat this like a home game where recruits can make visits, and will they paint the playing surface with South Carolina’s logos since this is still officially a Gamecocks home game? (No and no). Will the Tigers wear their traditional white home jerseys? (No, they’ll wear purple.)
And what about the kickoff time? Originally it was set to kick off at 11 a.m. CT, but Alleva got it pushed back to 2:30 p.m.
“The question was asked how many people we were going to have here and I think we would have a significantly lower number of people if we play at 11. So I fought hard to get it later,” Alleva said.
Nunez said the school expects to staff the game with approximately 75 percent of the workers who would be present on a typical Saturday.
“What you’re seeing is the people that were managing these groups finding ways to roll up their sleeves and say, ‘We got it. We’re going to make this happen. We’re going to help out,’” Nunez said.
LSU’s season-ticket holders have until 5 p.m. CT Thursday to purchase print-at-home tickets -- priced from $40 to $100, with student tickets costing $5 -- and then tickets will go on sale to the general public starting at 6 p.m.
“Obviously copies can be made [of print-at-home tickets] so we would advise fans not to buy tickets on the street,” assistant athletic director Brian Broussard said. “As of right now, there’s a lot of tickets available, so we prefer if you use some sense and buy them from us and just be done.”
LSU had sold approximately 10,000 tickets as of Wednesday afternoon, and Broussard said he expects South Carolina to bring between 1,000 and 2,000 fans.
For now, LSU plans to close the East Upper Deck and South Upper Deck seating to ticket sales, but will open those areas if demand requires such a move.
South Carolina will keep the gate since this is still officially a Gamecocks home game and LSU will pocket only enough to cover expenses, approximately a half-million dollars.
“I don’t really think that we’re going to make much money on this game at all,” Alleva said. “All the ticket revenue will go to South Carolina and frankly at the end of the day we’ll probably make a contribution to the South Carolina flood relief fund from the athletic department.”
Miles might not abide by South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s request and instruct LSU fans to keep it quiet on Saturday, but Miles’ school otherwise intends to be a good host.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Miles said. “This is a member institution in the SEC and we do everything we can to make sure they have every home advantage.”
Even play “Sandstorm.”