A flood of historic proportions in South Carolina led to a flurry of discussions Tuesday over where Saturday’s LSU-South Carolina football game will be played.
A final decision is expected by noon Wednesday whether to keep the game in Columbia, South Carolina, as scheduled or move it to LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
“We are not 100 percent sure that we will have a game at Williams-Brice (Stadium) at this time,” South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner said Tuesday.
A source with knowledge of the situation said the first preference is to keep the game in Columbia, followed by playing the game at a neutral site, with the final alternative to move the game to Tiger Stadium.
However, options for playing the game in Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; or even Jacksonville, Florida, apparently have been discarded.
“The ball is in South Carolina’s court,” LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said. “They make the decision. If they feel they can host the game, it will be played there. If they feel they can’t host it because of the tragedy they’ve had, then Baton Rouge is a possibility.”
Tiger Stadium gameday workers have been contacted to gauge their availability for Saturday.
“If we’re asked to host this game in the next 24 hours, it’s something we can certainly do,” LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette said Tuesday on WWL radio in New Orleans. “It’s not going to be easy by any means. Our stadium is ready. We’re in that in-season mode. It can be done.”
Kickoff for the game is still set for 11 a.m. CDT at Williams-Brice Stadium on ESPN.
If the game is moved to Baton Rouge, it is not known when it would kick off or which network would broadcast it.
Columbia has been plagued by a number of water main breaks in the wake of weekend flooding. Over a foot of rain fell on the area.
Seventeen flood-related deaths in South Carolina have been confirmed so far with numerous dam and bridge failures reported throughout the Columbia area.
Williams-Brice Stadium, its playing field and major roadways leading to the facility were not damaged by the flood, Tanner said. But the availability of police to work the game and drinkable water are major concerns.
Columbia residents have been either without water or under a boil-water advisory since the flood damaged the city’s downtown water treatment plant and broke water mains, increasing the possibility of contamination.
The University of South Carolina has canceled classes for the week, partially because of water issues. Williams-Brice Stadium is not on campus but south of downtown Columbia, near the state fairgrounds.
Tigers running back Leonard Fournette said Tuesday night that he is praying for the flood victims. He said LSU’s coaches haven’t discussed with the team where the game might be.
“It doesn’t matter where we play,” Fournette said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to go out there for victory, ready to get out there with my boys again — another Sautrday.”
Meanwhile, ESPN has announced it will move the SEC Network’s “SEC Nation” Saturday pregame show, previously set to air from Columbia, to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the Volunteers will play Georgia.
According to the Charlotte Observer, South Carolina officials reached out to the NFL’s Panthers about playing the game at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers are idle this weekend, but there is a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway, making the availability of hotel rooms a problem.
Also, the stadium’s field was recently resodded, potentially making playing on it an issue.
Another neutral site considered for the game was the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Georgia State is hosting Appalachian State there at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday.
Georgia Dome spokeswoman Jennifer LeMaster said Tuesday that South Carolina had not contacted dome officials about the game being moved there. A spokesman at nearby Georgia Tech also said there were no talks about moving the game to its 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium.
How rarely do SEC games move? The conference office says the only one in the past 20 years involving an SEC team might be the 2005 LSU-Arizona State game that was moved from Tiger Stadium to Tempe, Arizona, after Hurricane Katrina.
There appeared to be almost no possibility the game would be canceled because it is an SEC game. LSU did have its nonconference season opener with McNeese State University canceled after a lengthy lightning delay, the first LSU football game to be wiped out since 1918.
“All parties continue to monitor the situation, and the schools and SEC Office will remain in communication in the aftermath of the storm and flooding in the Midlands area,” said Chuck Dunlap, spokesman for the SEC. “Our thoughts are with the Columbia and South Carolina communities adversely affected by this tragedy.”
Despite the uncertainty, the LSU Alumni Association is still planning a charter flight to the South Carolina game, said Jason Ramezan, vice president of alumni engagement.
The group has rooms at the Columbia Marriott hotel. The Marriott is under a boil-water alert, but there are no other real issues, Ramezan said.
“As of right now, we’re planning to go as if there’s going to be a game in Columbia,” Ramezan said.
What if it gets moved?
“We’ll be ready to go wherever the Tigers play,” he said.
At least two South Carolina football staff members have been affected by the flooding, according to The (Charleston) Post and Courier.
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott was forced to leave his home along with many others who live in the area of Gills Creek, which, according to the National Weather Service, absorbed 20 inches of rain between Friday and Saturday. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he believed Elliott was able to return to his home Tuesday.
Quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus also had some water in his basement, Spurrier said.
Advocate sportswriters Scott Rabalais and Ross Dellenger contributed to this report.