August 26, 2006

True fans go the extra mile to see their team

The true rabid college football fan views an away game as an opportunity, not an inconvenience.

Road trips they're as much a part of the true fan's season as mounting team flags on cars, painting faces and smuggling flasks into stadiums.

But the soaring cost of gasoline the national average is almost $3 a gallon may test the resolve and bank accounts of even the most loyal fans.

In the past, many supporters would never let a few hundred miles stand between them and supporting dear old State U. They wanted to be part of the action, part of the excitement, part of the atmosphere. They still can, as long as they're willing to part with cash - and lots of it.

Lodging can be outrageously expensive on game weekends. The South Bend, Ind., Marriott, for example, is reportedly charging more than $600 a night - with a three-night minimum - to fans wanting to see Notre Dame's home opener against Penn State on Sept. 9.

Dining out can also be expensive, but any college kid can get around that by camping out and heading to White Castle, Carl Jr.'s, Steak & Shake or some other fast-food chain.

There's no getting around the price of gas.

Using mileage estimates provided by Mapquest.com, Rivals.com compiled the round-trip mileage each team in the continental United States will travel this season (See chart at bottom). Hawaii was not included because, well, it cannot be accessed by automobile.

Heavy load
Getting fans from Point A to Point B is one issue.

Moving more than 100 football players, coaches, athletic trainers, staff members and more than 6,000 pounds of equipment is a different story.

Preparation for one season's road trips can start more than a year before the game day. The process includes chartering flights, making hotel reservations, organizing meals for three days, transporting equipment and organizing ground transportation from the airport to the hotel, and from the hotel to the stadium.

"You have to start a ways in advance," said Tommy Sisemore, Louisiana Tech's assistant athletic director for facilities and team travel. "I've already started working on next
season."

Sisemore knows the routine all too well. His team will play eight road games this season. If Louisiana Tech fans want to drive to those games, they will have to travel a combined 13,776 miles from Ruston, La and that doesn't include a road game at Hawaii.

Sisemore's process starts with reserving up to 50 double rooms and 20 king rooms for players, coaches, support staff and cheerleaders on each road trip. Sisemore then places bids for charter flights for any games that are farther away than a six-hour bus ride. This year, that is all but two trips. Louisiana Tech will bus to North Texas and Texas A&M.

Louisiana Tech brings its equipment with the team on flights, but other schools such as Florida Atlantic University will move 7,500 pounds of equipment by truck to road trips as far as Clemson and Middle Tennessee State.

Sean Todd, FAU's assistant director of football operations, will often arrive at the game site a day before the team to make sure hotel, bus and meal arrangements are in place.

"The downside of my job is that if everything goes perfect, it should go perfect," Todd said. "You sure get called out when things don't go right."

-David Fox
Louisiana Tech's Western Athletic Conference game at Hawaii was not included on its mileage compilation, yet the Bulldogs still will travel an estimated 13,776 miles for their other road games, to Nebraska, Texas A&M, Clemson, Boise State, San Jose State and North Texas.

That means the most ardent Louisiana Tech fan with a vehicle that averages 25 miles a gallon must invest more than $1,600 in fuel alone to catch all the games away from Ruston.

By comparison, Purdue fans would have to spend only about $240 to attend all five road games. The Boilermakers travel an estimated 1,994 miles, which also means their fans could go to every road game and still wouldn't have to change their oil.

But Athletic Director Jim Oakes said few Louisiana Tech fans have complained. Instead, each year they look forward to the trips.

"We have more fans that say, 'Where are we going next year?' " Oakes said. "Some say, 'We've been everywhere but Notre Dame. When will we go to Notre Dame?' More often than not the question is where are we going next?"

Another question is how college football may be affected if the cost of fuel continues to rise. Will smaller programs seek more regional matchups to defer travel costs and enable more of their fans to attend away games?

Will programs like Louisiana Tech eventually work to schedule nearby opponents like LSU, Arkansas and/or Ole Miss for its revenue-producing non-conference games?

"That's a hard question," Oakes said. "No one can look into a crystal ball and predict how schedules will change."

Most small schools will continue to travel because the guaranteed paydays for games against large, established programs are too lucrative.

Florida Atlantic University, which plays seven away games including trips to Kansas State, Oklahoma State and North Texas, is guaranteed almost $2 million this season.

"We have to work hard to keep costs down," said Sean Todd, FAU's assistant director of football operations. "We don't have the deep pockets of a Florida State."

To fill its pockets, Florida Atlantic will travel an estimated 15,064 miles, the most in the nation. That will require an Owls fan with a vehicle that averages 25 miles per gallon to invest about $1,860 in fuel to make all of Florida Atlantic's road games.

But hey, true fans can't put a price on an opportunity to support the team.

On the road
Using mileage estimates provided by Mapquest.com, Rivals.com compiled the round-trip mileage each team in the continental United States will travel this season. Hawaii was not included because, well, it cannot be accessed by automobile. (Teams marked with an asterisk also play a road game at Hawaii not included in the total.
Florida Atlantic: 15,064
Army: 14,102
Louisiana Tech: 13,776*
Wash. State: 13,696
Rice: 13,130
Fresno State: 13,102
Idaho: 13,024*
San Diego State: 12,894
Washington: 12,834
Wyoming: 12,330
Air Force: 12,084
Navy: 11,784
TCU: 11,736
UTEP: 11,140
Brigham Young: 10,894
Arizona: 10,866
Utah State: 10,770
Boston College: 10,384
Tulsa: 10,382
California: 10,300
Minnesota: 10,048
Arizona State: 10,028
New Mex. St.: 9,786
UCLA: 9,750
Stanford: 9,658
South Florida: 9,642
Temple: 9,544
Notre Dame: 9,408
Miami: 9,404
Florida Int'l: 9,086
Southern Cal: 9,060
Nevada: 9,052*
Arkansas State: 8,802
Tulane: 8,532
Marshall: 8,301
Baylor: 8,248
Colorado State: 8,202
Mid.Tenn.St.: 8,128
Colorado: 8,014
Syracuse: 7,996
La.-Monroe: 7,860
East Carolina: 7,706
Oregon: 7,562
Buffalo: 7,400
Oregon State: 7,350*
North Texas: 7,338
Boise State: 7,236
Missouri: 7,169
Connecticut: 7,108
Oklahoma: 6,898
Central Florida: 6,870
UNLV: 6,842*
Louisville: 6,680
Northwestern: 6,352
Troy: 6,336
Pittsburgh: 6,328
Penn State: 6,308
Utah: 6,262
Rutgers: 6,248
Texas Tech: 6,238
San Jose State: 6,222*
SMU: 6,170
UAB: 6,170
Nebraska: 6,140
Western Mich.: 6,914
La.-Lafayette: 5,884
Southern Miss: 5,968
Arkansas: 5,832
Memphis: 5,574
Iowa State: 5,548
Ohio State: 5,414
Florida State: 5,288
Wake Forest: 5,270
Ohio: 5,208
Houston: 5,060
Central Michigan: 4,648
Virginia: 4,648
West Virginia: 4,728
Oklahoma State: 4,616
Kentucky: 4,612
Iowa: 4,594
New Mexico: 4,574
Texas: 4,558
Illinois: 4,382
LSU: 4,298
North Carolina: 4,288
Kent State: 4,228
Vanderbilt: 4,204
Eastern Michigan: 4,184
Clemson: 4,116
Kansas: 4,040
Maryland: 3,960
Duke: 3,934
Virginia Tech: 3,914
Miami (Ohio): 3,818
South Carolina: 3,750
Ole Miss: 3,742
Tennessee: 3,586
Michigan: 3,512
Alabama: 3,460
Northern Illinois: 3,444
Cincinnati: 3,432
Wisconsin: 3,430
Florida: 3,396
Akron: 3,296
NC State: 3,264
Georgia: 3,200
Texas A&M: 3,062
Bowling Green: 2,940
Toledo: 2,932
Kansas State: 2,898
Georgia Tech: 2,868
Michigan State: 2,850
Ball State: 2,726
Indiana: 2,552
Auburn: 2,248
Mississippi State: 2,102
Purdue: 1,994*
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