Luke DeCock

DeCock: Options to the north, but South Carolina looks elsewhere to play

It was only through a quirk of meteorological luck that South Carolina was inundated with moisture last week instead of North Carolina, leading to devastating flooding in Columbia and Charleston.

Through another quirk, this time of the schedule, all five of North Carolina’s biggest Division I football stadiums are empty, either because of road games or off weeks, as is the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium.

They’ll remain empty, because when it became impossible for South Carolina to play Louisiana State at Columbia’s Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, school and SEC officials decided to play the game in Baton Rouge instead of somewhere in North Carolina or vacant NFL stadiums in Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla.

“We just didn’t have enough time to get serious about one of the other stadiums,” South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner told The (Columbia) State. “They didn’t take shape quick enough. At the end of the day, if we were going to move the game, the logical decision was to go to LSU.”

In any case, South Carolina did not approach N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest or East Carolina about the use of their stadiums, according to school spokespeople. Even if empty, not all were available – the Carolina Hurricanes play their home opener Saturday at PNC Arena, next door to Carter-Finley Stadium.

Should any of those schools find themselves in the same situation as South Carolina, all would pursue options on a case-by-case basis. There are various permutations as well: Even if a stadium were available and accessible, would there be enough off-duty police and Highway Patrol to control traffic? Would hosting a game detract from the recovery effort in a natural disaster?

“It’s all circumstantial,” N.C. State spokesman Fred Demarest said. “Do we have a direct plan in place? No. Anything we would do, we would work with the ACC office.”

In East Carolina’s case, the school feels its relationships with the other Division I football schools in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are good enough to cover its bases, and it has the experience to prove it.

The most famous example of contingencies is East Carolina’s game against Miami at Carter-Finley in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. With the Greenville campus swamped by the raging Tar River and more than 5,000 students flooded out of their homes, the Pirates were stuck practicing in Columbia after a win at South Carolina and had nowhere to play the Hurricanes the next week with no water or power at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

N.C. State accepted East Carolina’s request to borrow Carter-Finley and gave it to the Pirates rent-free beyond operating costs – although it ended up costing East Carolina $7,500 to replace N.C. State’s goalposts after the Pirates scored the final 24 points of the game to win 27-23.

It remains one of the most cherished moments in East Carolina football history, not only a momentous upset of a top-10 opponent but a triumph of will at a time when eastern North Carolina desperately needed any kind of positive momentum – and a tribute to cooperation among rivals in the wake of a disaster.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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