UPDATE (8/28, 5:30 p.m.) -
LSU's season opener against BYU will be played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans Saturday. Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m.
LSU players were kept in the dark, much like everyone else.
LSU could be heading to a Southeastern Conference bowl site four months before the holidays.
Nashville, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida, have joined New Orleans as potential playing spots for the Tigers’ season opener against BYU on Saturday. Bowl-affiliated and stadium officials from those sites confirmed to The Advocate that LSU-BYU game officials have reached out.
Jacksonville, Florida, is expected to also be in the mix, though officials there have not returned a message seeking comment. ESPN also reached out to Dallas' Cotton Bowl Stadium about potentially hosting the game, a Cotton Bowl Stadium representative confirmed Monday.
Game officials have yet to determine a location for the matchup, originally scheduled for Saturday night at Houston’s NRG Stadium. That city’s historic flooding from Hurricane Harvey has forced the relocation of the game.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is available, and Dome officials say they’re prepared to host. All of these cities, including New Orleans, are expected to produce to game officials a proposal to host the game — a normal protocol.
New Orleans, however, might see weather trouble from the same system that washed out Houston. Harvey, now a tropical storm, is predicted to slowly move northeast, potentially causing heavy rain in New Orleans, which experienced massive flooding earlier this month.
The other locations are out of harm’s way, and (other than Dallas) they’re all spots the Tigers might find themselves come late December or early January — each of them a longtime member of the SEC’s group of bowl tie-ins.
LSU played in Orlando’s Camping World Stadium last December, beating Louisville 29-9 in the Citrus Bowl. Jacksonville hosts the annual TaxSlayer Bowl, formerly the Gator Bowl, at EverBank Field, where the Tigers haven’t played since 1987. LSU played Notre Dame in the 2014 Music City Bowl the last time the program traveled to Nashville, losing to the Irish 31-28 at then-LP Field, now Nissan Stadium.
The league is taking on a significant role in this process. SEC administrators and ESPN executives are reaching out to stadium officials.
One of the most closely guarded secrets at LSU is a video.
In Nashville, Scott Ramsey, president and CEO of the Music City Bowl, said his staff is still evaluating whether they could host a game, checking availability of police, hotels and other personnel. He planned to report back to the SEC and ESPN later Monday. He did not know their timeline.
“We’ve got sort of a checklist,” he said. “We’re working through that today.”
Orlando is in discussion with ESPN game officials and is prepared to host. No game is scheduled at either of those stadiums for this weekend. The Citrus Bowl has been working to get a kickoff game for years and is ready to offer its services, officials said Monday morning.
Game officials, primarily from ESPN, are deciding among five locations, according to LSU spokesman Bill Franques. The decision ultimately lies with ESPN, athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement Sunday night.
The network owns the rights to the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff. ESPN is in its fifth year of an eight-year agreement with Lone Star Sports & Entertainment, a marketing company affiliated with the Houston Texans that hosts the kickoff games.
ESPN should use “reasonable efforts” to reschedule the game if it is canceled due to extreme weather, according to the game contract between the network and LSU. The network is contractually obligated to pay LSU $4 million for playing in the game.
The Tigers are ready, if need be, to host the game at Tiger Stadium, but ESPN, for whatever reason, may want to keep it a neutral-site affair.
UPDATE (8/28, 5:30 p.m.) -
Arlington, Texas, like New Orleans, is a risk, as the path of Harvey could affect that city. Also, AT&T Stadium is hosting Florida and Michigan in a game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. LSU and BYU cannot play Sunday. BYU does not allow its athletic teams to play Sundays, under university policy in accordance with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Harvey’s projected path shifted farther east toward Louisiana in the latest advisory, released at 7 a.m. by National Hurricane Center. The path puts the storm near the Louisiana-Texas border, just to the west of Lake Charles, as late as Thursday.
If New Orleans is deemed to be too risky, Orlando might make the most sense for ESPN. While the network’s home base is in Connecticut, ESPN has roots in Orlando as well because of Walt Disney World. The Walt Disney Company is ESPN’s parent organization. Orlando is one of the more accessible cities for the network’s equipment and crews because of its international airport.
A move to any of these cities raises also many questions.
LSU had sold 23,000 of its 25,000-ticket allotment as of last week, and BYU had sold out its allotment of 9,400, said David Fletcher, executive director of the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff. So many fans would have to hurriedly book flights to and hotels in a new city. And how will tickets be handled?
Whether ESPN will change the kickoff time is unclear. Kickoff in Houston was scheduled for 8:30 CDT. Orlando and Jacksonville are on Eastern Daylight Time.
LSU has been here before, waiting for a new location and potentially a new time for a game on Monday of game week. In 2015, flooding in South Carolina eventually led to the Tigers' game against the Gamecocks being moved from Columbia, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge — a decision made on the Wednesday before that game.
This could be the fourth LSU football game affected by weather in less than three years.
The threat of Hurricane Matthew last October affected the Tigers’ game at Florida, resulting in LSU having just 11 regular-season games for a second consecutive season. Officials, after tense negotiations, agreed to reschedule the game for November and move it to Baton Rouge.
In 2015, LSU’s season opener against McNeese State was canceled just minutes into the game because of lightning. It was never made up.