NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The NFL hopes the New Orleans Saints can play at least some of their 2006 schedule at the Louisiana Superdome.

The stadium, damaged by Hurricane Katrina, will not be ready to host a Saints game until late in the season, however. So the team will probably split the remaining games between San Antonio and Tiger Stadium at LSU in Baton Rouge, as they have this year.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue emphasized, as he did earlier this season, that the Saints will remain a New Orleans-based franchise next year.

Tagliabue said major decisions about the 2006 season will be made in the next few weeks.

He announced that former Miami Dolphins president Eddie Jones has agreed to serve as his New Orleans-based liaison with business and civic leaders.

“Having him involved in the process and having someone here on the ground day to day will be helpful,” Tagliabue said.

Long-term decisions on the Saints’ future will encompass many factors, including plans for restoring levees that failed during the storm, plans for rebuilding neighborhoods and projections on how many businesses will reopen in New Orleans, the commissioner said.

Tagliabue will return in January to discuss the status of the Superdome. Items covered Monday were a potential outline of Dome renovations, said Tim Coulon, head of the Superdome Commission.

“It’s highly unlikely we would have the facility available at the beginning of the season,” Coulon said. “We’re looking at November, but again, that’s an ambitious schedule.”

Tagliabue had breakfast with civic and business leaders before he toured eastern New Orleans, the lower Ninth Ward and the Lakeview neighborhood, all severely flooded after Katrina hit Aug. 29. He also toured the Saints’ practice facility in suburban Metairie and the Dome.

Tagliabue said the practice facility, used by relief workers in the days after the storm, appeared to be in excellent condition, but a great deal of work remains to be done on the Superdome.

His tour was part of the NFL’s effort to determine whether the Saints can return to their regular base next season.

The Superdome has been largely cleaned up since its use as an evacuation shelter, with damaged carpeting and wall board torn out. It still needs millions of dollars in restoration work. Its extensive electrical and communications systems were damaged by rain after Katrina’s winds tore holes in the roof, and mold stains can be seen on wall paneling extending from the upper deck to the roof.

The roof already has been repaired.

Tagliabue was prevented from attending Sunday’s Tampa Bay-New Orleans game in Baton Rouge because of snow and ice in New York that delayed his flight.

AP-ES-12-05-05 1835EST

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