"Sports Organizations Grapple with Y2K"

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(Online News, 04/07/99 02:22 PM)

Sports organizations grapple with Y2K

By Kathleen Ohlson

For sports fans, the last weekend of the year is often paradise, filled with collegiate bowls and professional action. This year, to ensure fans will be able to see the likes of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice break down the middle or University of Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin go long, the National Football League, collegiate bowls and other sports organizations are taking steps to deal with potential year 2000-related problems.

The NFL "has less flexibility than other leagues, and it's true this year," as week 17 of its season will fall on Jan. 2 and 3, said Jodi Balsam, council for operations and litigation at the NFL in New York.

The problem began when the league didn't want to schedule games against the college bowls, "triggering other scheduling" constraints, including how to address concerns surrounding the year 2000, Balsam said. As a result, the NFL gathered information from computer vendors, suppliers, business partners, stadiums and local cities and towns, and formed a task force, Balsam said.

One concern was to ensure visiting teams arrive for games on week 17. Generally, teams are required to travel no later than Saturday for a Sunday game, and they typically only travel on a Friday for Saturday or championship games, Balsam said. The league is "recommending" visiting teams arrive at their host cities by Friday, Dec. 31, but it may require teams to travel before that date as more information becomes available, she said. Most visiting teams have already said they will arrive Dec. 31, Balsam added.

As for the home teams, they will work with local governments to ensure medical service, public safety and traffic control concerns will be solved, she said. The league has emergency procedures in place and is currently fine-tuning these plans in preparation for year 2000, Balsam said. One move will be to have someone in authority from the league on site at games, she added.

Collegiate players involved in bowl action are required to be at playoff sites one week beforehand anyway, so no special rules are needed about travel this year. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., will be held Dec. 31, and authorities have been taking a "proactive" approach to ensure power, lighting, water and other factors will be "in full compliance with the year 2000," said Kevin Ash, director of the Rose Bowl. "The city of Pasadena is fairly experienced at hosting large events," such as the Olympics and the World Cup, and "we're pretty confident" about the year 2000, Ash said.

All of the components, such as crowd control and communications, have been handled separately to see how they will be affected by the year 2000 and "make sure they will be OK," Ash said. Major backup testing will be held this summer, he added.

The Nokia Sugar Bowl in New Orleans will host the collegiate national championship on Jan. 4, benefiting from the NFL's Monday night schedule, said Jeff Hundley, associate executive director of the Sugar Bowl. "We'd be more concerned if the game was earlier, but time is in our favor," he said. "If there are a few snags, we'll have time to work them out prior to the game," Hundley added.

Authorities overseeing the Sugar Bowl are "comfortable" with the building management's plans for the year 2000, Hundley said. They haven't met directly with the city of New Orleans to address any potential year 2000-related problems, but they've had preliminary discussions, Hundley said. The city has been "very prudent about its year 2000 preparations, and we don't foresee any major problems," he said. Hundley expects both sides to have further discussions soon and to have a backup plan for "extreme emergencies."

"Everyone should have a contingency plans, but most won't use them," said Tom Oleson, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. People overseeing major sporting events need to think through what problems are mostly likely. If it's a night game, for example, "it's worth spending extra money for a backup [generator, rather] than refunding all of those tickets." If any problems occur, he predicted, they will be "annoying bugs" that people will be able to live with, he added.

Sports with more scheduling flexibility than football may simply avoid New Year's weekend altogether. The National Basketball Association is at the "beginning stages" of looking into plans for the 1999-2000 schedule, said Seth Sylvan, a spokesman for the NBA in New York. The league is leaning toward not playing between Dec. 31 to Jan. 2, but "this is not etched in stone," Sylvan said. "We're keeping our finger on" the year 2000 computer problem, Sylvan added.

The National Hockey League is "still evaluating" plans for the 1999-2000 schedule, and any definitive decisions will be made after this year's playoffs end, said Frank Brown, a spokesman for the NHL in New York.


-- Kevin (mixesmusic@worldnet.att.net), April 09, 1999


Almost missed this one, Kevin. Interesting. Weren't we discussing the Super Bowl last week? The threads fly off the screen so quickly these days...

Anyway, it seems that, as long as there is a "TASK FORCE" involved, we can all relax.

Football is safe.

It amuses me that such disparate groups as the NBA and even our local public school system seem to be operating from a three-day-problem context.

And, concerning the refunding of tickets? PLEASE! Sportsfans will be lucky just not to get marooned fa away from home.

And, thanks, Tom Oleson, for another vote of confidence that should inspire more people to irresponsible action.

-- Sara Nealy (keithn@aloha.net), April 11, 1999.

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