Carrier prepared to host Spartans, UNC

SAN DIEGO -- It's all but certain that the Michigan State-North Carolina men's basketball game on Veterans Day will be played aboard the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that carried Osama bin Laden's body to a burial at sea, organizers say.

The Carl Vinson returned from its deployment Wednesday to Coronado, across the bay from downtown San Diego.

Mike Whalen of the Morale Entertainment Foundation told The Associated Press that 40 to 50 people from his group, ESPN, the Navy and vendors will be at the ship on Monday and Tuesday for a site survey. A briefing for civic leaders and the media is planned for Monday evening at the San Diego Hall of Champions.

"Now that the Carl Vinson is back safe and sound and America is now well-aware of the important mission that was tasked to the Carl Vinson, we find it to be a source of pride that this ship will make history twice in 2011," Whalen said.

The Spartans-Tar Heels matchup Nov. 11 will be the first NCAA basketball game played on a flat top.

Until now, the best organizers could say was that the game would be played on either the Carl Vinson or the USS Ronald Reagan. After meeting with Navy officials in Washington, D.C., this week, Whalen said there's a 99 percent chance the game will be on the Carl Vinson.

"It's strictly by schedule," Whalen said. "I know people don't think that. It's true. You can't make this stuff up. It's just the way it worked out."

The Carl Vinson was in the North Arabian Sea May 2 when it received a Navy SEAL team carrying the body of bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader who was killed in a raid on his compound in Pakistan. The body was placed in a weighted bag, an officer made religious remarks and it was dropped into the sea.

A court and stadium seating for about 7,000 fans will be set up on the flight deck. In case of rain, the game will be moved below to the hangar deck, with bleacher seating for the fans.

Whalen said his group did a site survey on the Ronald Reagan in December.

"The other part of this is we have to be aware that if something comes up and they have to move a carrier around, this whole project is predicated on the fact we're not going to create any impediment for a U.S. Navy warship to be deployed in a timely manner," Whalen said.

The court and seating can be removed in 24 to 36 hours, if necessary.

"It'll be on the pier but they'll have their ship back," Whalen said.