NCAA officials have contingency plans that could include delaying College World Series games or even playing them elsewhere if Missouri River flooding exceeds expectations and makes the event unplayable at TD Ameritrade Park.
Dennis Poppe, the NCAA vice president of baseball and football, stressed Wednesday that event organizers expect to be able to play the games as scheduled in Omaha's new $131 million downtown ballpark. He said city officials have assured the NCAA that the series will be able to be played despite the flooding.
That said, Poppe acknowledged that unprecedented amounts of water are on the way to Omaha in an already flooding Missouri River. The series is scheduled to begin Saturday and end June 28 or June 29. Peak releases from dams upriver are expected to reach Omaha next week.
“Having been around athletic events, and particularly outdoor athletic events, you can wear yourself out thinking about what-ifs,” Poppe said after a morning press conference at the stadium. “Now you have to be prepared to have to have a Plan B, C or D when something happens. It would be negligent if we didn't have something in the plan.”
He wouldn't discuss emergency plans.
Later Wednesday, Omaha Storm Chasers President Alan Stein said his team last week offered Mayor Jim Suttle and the CWS any assistance they need. That includes its stadium, Werner Park in Sarpy County, as a possible backup site, when the region's minor league baseball team is not playing.
The Storm Chasers, after Thursday night, have no home games scheduled until June 25, a day the CWS will play none, one or two games. They have day games set the first two days of the CWS championship series.
“I told him ... that the Storm Chasers and Werner Park, based on its availability, are here to provide any help that we can,” Stein said. “The College World Series is critically important to all of us, and there's almost a moral imperative that we help out if necessary. I just wanted to make sure he knew that.''
Aida Amoura, a spokeswoman for Suttle, confirmed that Stein had offered use of Werner Park.
She said the mayor's response essentially was, “Thanks for the offer, but we have a plan and we're working our plan.” That plan is to protect TD Ameritrade Park so the CWS can be played there.
Stein said he has had no further contact with anyone from the NCAA, CWS Inc. or the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority.
City and federal officials have said that even a catastrophic breach of the levees protecting Omaha would not flood the stadium but would flood some stadium parking lots.
“I was in meetings all day yesterday with city officials, city engineers, and these are the people that know what's going on,” Poppe said. “I'm just repeating what I've been told, and I came away very confident ... that they have everything under control and we'll be able to play and have a great experience here come Saturday.”
Poppe likened the situation to past years of the CWS, saying there were contingency plans to evacuate Rosenblatt Stadium and relocate the series if a tornado hit the stadium. Officials want several options to consider, he said.
“First of all, you'd assess the damage and see if you could delay the games or play them later,” Poppe said. “If it's such that you cannot play them, do you find another site and all those things. ... Every championship has a contingency plan, but we're very confident that we're going to be here and playing and we're going to have a great opening year for the College World Series — for the first of 25 more to come.”
Amoura said the only CWS flooding contingency plan city officials have heard of involves extended rain delays.
“That's all anybody has talked to us about,” she said. “Our goal is to keep pumping and do what we need to do to keep (the series) at TD Ameritrade Park.”
And officials expressed confidence that the playing field would not be affected.
An under-field drainage system is designed to collect a 7˝-inch rainfall without having to pump out any of that water.
Any rainwater collected would be pumped into the city's sewer drainage system, though that might take more time to carry out considering the pressure from the river, said Bruce Carpenter, lead architect on the stadium for HDR Inc.
“It's all designed to pump out, even with the river at the present elevation,” he said.
Dan Blank, the ballpark's turf manager, said the stadium also has backflow preventers to keep water from seeping in.
“The turf is in great shape,” he said. “I have no concern at all about the river.”
World-Herald staff writer Steve Pivovar contributed to this report.
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