PROVO — Some will go, some won’t, others just can’t even think about it. Generally speaking, BYU fans will bite the bullet as a tragic life-changing disaster overshadows the games people play.
The catastrophic events in Houston forced organizers of the AdvoCare BYU-LSU game to take that Saturday contest out of NRG Stadium near downtown and move it closer to LSU’s campus at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Moving the game to New Orleans was the right business move for owners of the game, particularly for ESPN.
This was a major game for independent BYU, a dream matchup against a traditional blue-blood SEC program whose national reputation is legend. Many BYU fans invested in this game months ago. They bought airline tickets, made lodging arrangements and bought tickets to NRG Stadium. Fans in the Houston area and across Texas banked on going to Houston. Now something greater than all of this took control.
But from a business standpoint, ESPN was always going to pick New Orleans, even as that city is setting out sandbags and issues could impact travelers.
There are BYU fans who have lost money in canceling the Houston trip. Others just shelled out more money and will show up in the Big Easy.
The BYU athletic department estimates there would have been more than 15,000 BYU fans if this game were in Houston. Events of the past week will cut that in half. BYU fans have a track record of showing up at neutral sites for these affairs. It is a big reason ESPN is BYU’s partner and will prove the broker for the bowl game if the Cougars qualify this season.
Meanwhile, LSU is projected to fill the majority of the Superdome, a crowd that could top 50,000.
Is that fair? Of course not. But that’s always been the case for independent BYU when it's gone to NFL venues near “anchor” schools. It happened when it played Arizona last year near Phoenix, when it took on Missouri in nearby Arrowhead Stadium, and West Virginia in the Washington Redskins’ stadium.
ESPN and the owner of NRG Stadium, which owns the Superdome, were the investors in this game. They called all the shots. LSU and BYU were “products” and “merchandise” in this arrangement. The respective schools had no say in a relocation venue, they were just informed and kept informed over the weekend.
BYU’s position to ESPN and LSU is that it is supportive and grateful for the date with LSU — and did not want the game postponed.
This game was never going to be taken to Jerry’s World in Dallas, where there is already a neutral-site game between Michigan and Florida on Saturday. A doubleheader would be nearly impossible logistically. The Cotton Bowl wasn’t a viable option for an 8:30 p.m. kickoff Central time for logistical reasons — and ESPN was always going to keep that time slot for BYU-LSU.
Going to Nashville or Orlando would break a business model by investors to keep the game near an anchor school — in this case LSU, which agreed to play BYU in Houston because it is where most of LSU’s alumni reside.
Some sniping that BYU “didn’t do enough” to get the game in Dallas or even bring it to a dry, sunny LaVell Edwards Stadium is both ignorant and an exercise in fantasy.
“We love our fans” said athletic director Tom Holmoe. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime tragic event that should take all our prayers and thoughts for the people of Houston before everything else.”
A great example of BYU fanhood is the case of Trent Hatch and his three brothers in El Paso. This week they left work and families, drove 12 hours to Houston with their trucks and boats and joined the Cajun Navy to shuttle displaced Houstonians from their flooded houses to higher ground.
Moving BYU-LSU to New Orleans certainly messed with a lot of BYU fans and their plans for Labor Day weekend and a big-time experience in Houston. But moving it to New Orleans, keeping a game with LSU, and not postponing it and the loss of money for some?
Well, it is the way it is.
All is understandable. And it's nothing compared to what this week cost the people of Houston.