Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
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.
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."
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.