Shutdown opens door for repayment of Katrina debt
Editor's Note: One of the writers of this opinion piece is Morris Kahn of Morgan City.
The state of Louisiana, New Orleans, and Tulane University have an opportunity to repay the athletic kindness and generosity bestowed upon them 15 years ago when the devastation of hurricane Katrina slapped our world. Today’s crisis does not come from the Gulf of Mexico but from across the Pacific. Instead of thinking in terms of Category 5 storms and tropical cyclones, we deal with P.P.E. and coronavirus ventilators.
The decision by the California State University System to only operate online this fall has put a big question mark in the football and athletic programs at San Diego State, Fresno State, and San Jose State. NCAA President Mark Emmert said: “If you don’t have a college campus open, you can’t have college sports.” Already reeling from the cancellation of spring sports, the thought of no women’s soccer, volleyball, or lacrosse, and men’s soccer, along with the gridiron, is a painful kick in the shins to student athletes, alumni, students, and sports fans.
We call on Tulane to become a refuge and home to one of these California based athletic programs that are in jeopardy of losing an entire season. As the Southern Methodist football program in Dallas, Texas learned in 1986, even a single year without competing can take two decades or more to repair.
All this brings back the indelible memory of the August 2005 weekend the Cajun state heard the news of the upgrade of the Katrina to a category 5 storm. Millions backed the car out of the driveway and rattled out of town, complete with 10 hour waits on the Interstate. For today’s college students, ages 3 to 6 at the time, they have little to no memory.
Fifteen years ago, a brave Tulane president, Scott S. Cowen, determined that a closed campus would not mean no sports, accepted the amazing invitations by other universities to take in all their sports teams to allow them to compete as their campus closed.
Southern Methodist University (and later Louisiana Tech) took in the football team. Baseball and women’s basketball were welcomed at Texas Tech, Women’s volleyball at Rice, men’s and women’s golf remained in Dallas at SMU along with the determined Athletic Director Rick Dickson and a small staff. Six teams — men’s basketball, women’s swimming & diving, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer — headed to Texas A&M. Part of the women’s track and field squad later joined the football team in Ruston.
The NFL was also damaged. The Saints played their first home game at the Meadowlands in New York. Hurricane Katrina forced the team out of the Superdome and they played the rest of their home schedule at San Antonio’s Alamodome or LSU’s Tiger Stadium. The same fate will likely fall the Rams, the Chargers, and the 49ers.
Louisiana is a quintessential patriotic state, home to National World War II Museum.
But unlike our last half dozen wars , the battle with the coronavirus is not a remote affair for Louisianians. At one point we rivaled New York as the epicenter of battle. All the more reason for a generous outreach to these California brothers in shoulder pads and sisters with Lacrosse sticks.
The proud alumni, football, and athletic fans of San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State will defend the honor of their programs with the tenacity of Gen. Andrew Jackson and his Army at the Battle of New Orleans in 1812. But, they need a home just as Tulane needed one in the mid 2000’s.
Tulane, and perhaps LSU, the University of Louisiana, and other colleges should extend a lifeline to one or more of the California schools to offer their facilities for them to train and their stadiums for them to play. All of this assistance is much easier than in 2005, when the Tulane athletes had to enroll and actually attend class at the schools who hosted them. Today, these student athletes can continue to take classes online from their universities.
There seems to be a fundamental disagreement about what’s possible — or appropriate — at the top levels of college athletics in the coronavirus world. Louisiana must innovate, lead, and adapt just as surely as Mr. Andrew Higgins did with his NOLA-based boat company in 1940. He did not wait for the war to come to him. He purchased a large portion of the Mahogany crop of the Philippines to prepare in case America came into this earlier global conflict. Yes, those “Higgins boats” LCVP landing craft were made of Mahogany because that type wood floats high in the water.
We call on Tulane to return the favor they received 15 years ago from SMU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Louisiana Tech, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, to offer the football team from one of these three stranded college programs refuge for this coming Fall semester.
The doubters and naysayers have already written off the women’s and men’s athletic programs at Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State for this fall, just as it looked like Katrina has finished off the Tulane Greenwave. But like the Londoners and the buzz bomb, the Navy at Pearl Harbor, and the Marines at Bataan, their total demise was premature. Help was, and should be on the way.
In his famous press release late on a unbelievably hot and humid Friday afternoon in August of 2005, University President Cowen said although no classes would be held on the Tulane campus during the Fall semester, the Green Wave teams would continue to compete, to “carry the torch, be the face and represent the name” of Tulane University while its students, faculty and staff were displaced around the country.
Football and athletics at Fresno State, San Diego State, and San Jose State this Fall will not be about winning and losing. It will be about perseverance. For millions of people affected in the coronavirus world, each time these teams take the field, it will give the most important thing in any crisis. Hope. Let us give each other, and well as these institutions that hope.
Morris Kahn is a 1978 Tulane graduate, lifelong Louisiana resident from Morgan City and national board member of State Funeral for World War II Veterans.
Bill McNutt is the national chairman of state Funeral for World War II Veterans. He lives in Dallas.