By: John Weis
While I am thrilled UCF is entering the Big XII in the very near future, it doesn’t mean going into a new conference doesn’t come with a whole new set of concerns. One such issue is UCF’s geographical location, which I believe puts it at a distinct disadvantage compared to all other Big XII teams.
Why? Because every conference road game will be a major road trip. And I am not just talking about the additional expense that comes along with it, though that’s significant; I’m referring to the mental and physical wear and tear a UCF player might feel after an exceptionally lengthy plane ride.
This article from smartbase.com details the struggles of athletes on multiple-time-zone road trips. Included in this informative piece is the following snippet: The stressors of travel don’t merely involve crossing time zones, staying seated for long periods of time, or getting inadequate sleep. College athletes often have to study while on the road and sometimes even have to take tests or finals before they return. Food choices are typically limited in airports and when team buses stop at gas stations or fast-food restaurants, and players might also struggle with dehydration. All these factors can create a perfect storm that negatively impacts the health and wellbeing of individual athletes and makes it difficult for teams to perform their best.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at what UCF athletes competing in the Big XII will face once the move becomes official on July 1, emphasizing the monumental road trips ahead of them. Of course, fans will also have to endure the additional travel time and inconvenience as they take to the road to watch their Knights.
It bears mentioning that some of the major sports teams will fly charter, significantly reducing travel time and inconvenience … but also increasing the cost. As UCF Athletic Director Terry Mohajir recently told 365 Sports in an interview, “What really changes is the way the Big XII travels. We’ve chartered before with men’s and women’s basketball, but we didn’t charter every game. Now you’re chartering for (all those) games, plus even some for the volleyball, softball, and baseball programs. A 30-person charter flight is $80,000, so there’s a significant difference in cost.”
But what about the teams that won’t have the luxury of taking a charter flight? And what about those fans who want to go to Big XII road games? There are some grueling trips ahead, as you’ll see below.
The following list includes only travel time (air and ground) and does not factor in the extra time for deplaning, ground transportation, waiting at luggage carousels, going to specific hotels, etc. Note that I didn’t bother adding Oklahoma and Texas to this list, as they’ll be gone to the SEC after next season.
Houston: It’s easy to find a nonstop flight to Houston (HOU), as it’s one of the largest airports in the country. Approximate flight time is 2:40. A very short 20-minute drive and you’re ready to take in the sights before game time. UCF’s athletes in most sports have taken this trip in the past and this one is arguably the easiest of the bunch. Total time: Approximately 3:00.
Cincinnati: A one-way plane ride to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport (CVG) is roughly 2:15. And because Cincinnati is a major airline hub, it will be fairly easy to get in and out. Make the brief half-hour drive and you’re there. This is one of the easiest trips of the bunch, and like Houston, the Knights have endured it many times in the past. Total time: Approximately 3:15.
TCU: Another fairly palatable trip. A nonstop flight of approximately 3:05 to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (DFW) isn’t bad at all. And once you’ve deplaned, it’s a short 35-minute drive to the area of Fort Worth where the campus is situated. Total time: Approximately 3:40.
West Virginia: Here, you have a couple options. You can fly into the Morgantown airport (MGW), but there isn’t a direct flight. This is about 4:20 in actual flight time plus your layover to catch the connecting flight. Option two, the faster and cheaper option, is flying into Pittsburgh (PIT), which takes just under 2:30. From there, take a drive of about 1:45 and you’ll have reached your destination. Total time: Approximately 4:15 (assuming you fly from Pittsburgh).
Kansas: One of the new stops in the Big XII, a nonstop flight from Orlando to Kansas City (MCI) is three hours in the air; after that there is a 50-mile or so ride to Lawrence that takes a little over an hour. Not horrible, and as you’ll see this is a walk in the park compared to some others to come. Total time: Approximately 4:15.
NOT GREAT, BUT TOLERABLE
Baylor: Like TCU, the closest major airport to Waco is Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), though there is an actual Waco airport (ACT) that does not offer nonstop flights. This means extra expense, and they’d likely be leaving from DFW, anyway. The flight, roughly 3:05 in duration, is followed by a fairly significant drive of just under two hours to get to Waco, making it a little less convenient than TCU. Total time: Approximately 5:00.
Kansas State: There actually is a Manhattan airport (MHK), but there are no direct flights. Your best bet is to look at Kansas City (MCI) and take the nonstop three-hour trip there, then drive the remaining 2:30 to get to Manhattan. There are other regional airports nearby such as Lincoln (LNK) or Omaha, Nebraska (OMA) you could potentially try. Total time: Approximately 5:30.
BYU: While there is a Provo airport (PVU), nonstop flights can be found into nearby Salt Lake City (SLC), making things a bit easier. The ride to campus isn’t bad at all, about 50 minutes in length. Combine that with just under five hours in the air and it’s likely the last of these away trips that won’t leave you cranky upon your arrival. Total time: Approximately 6:00.
Texas Tech: I was unable to find nonstop flights to Lubbock (LBB), and there are no larger airports that I found nearby. Total time in the air is right at five hours. The good news is it’s just a quick jaunt to campus that takes less than a half hour. Total time: Approximately 5:30 plus layover time.
Oklahoma State: I was shocked to find I was unable to find a direct flight to Oklahoma City (OKC), the closest major airport to Stillwater. Note that there is a Stillwater airport (SWO), but flights in and out are extremely limited and won’t be nonstop. Tulsa is also an option, though it’s a little further away than Oklahoma City – and UCF fans have likely had their fill of anything with the name “Tulsa” on it. You’ll spend just under 4:30 in the air, plus the connecting flight layover. Then, from OKC there’s still a drive of nearly 90 minutes to the campus after landing. Total time: Approximately 6:00 plus layover time.
Iowa State: The closest major airport to Ames is Des Moines (DSM). Sadly, there are no direct flights to be found; at least, I could not find any. This flight is a really long one, as you’ll spend about 5:40 in the air including the connecting leg of the trip. Add another hour or so for the drive to Ames, plus whatever layover you have, and you’ll be worn out once you get there. Total time: Approximately 6:45 plus layover time.
More Cause for Concern
Here’s something else to consider: This list will only get worse if any of the PAC-12 schools choose to defect to the Big XII. Imagine trips from MCO to Arizona, Utah … even Oregon or Washington! The Knights’ greatest hope is that some of the ACC schools become available in the near future, which would not only add more quality programs to the Big XII ledger, it would also allow UCF to minimize the number of lengthy road trips. Trips to Louisville, Pitt, Virginia Tech, NC State, Syracuse – and especially Georgia Tech – seem simple in comparison to many of the others.
There is one small bit of good news. We should enjoy a distinct advantage at home in Big XII conference contests, because our opponents will have to endure the same trips I’ve outlined above, just in reverse order.
Ultimately, we won’t know how much – or even if – long road trips will affect UCF’s performance until they’re in the midst of the action. But I have a hunch that it will be a factor, especially during the first season or two, while our athletes get used to Big XII travel.
Help a Fellow Fan, if You Can
Finally, if anyone who’s made reservations for a Big XII away game has found a more efficient road trip than what I’ve listed here, please leave a comment.
Author John Weis is a freelance Writing/PR professional. His company, Weis Words (www.weiswords.biz) serves national clients such as advertising agencies, public relations firms, and sports organizations, as well as small businesses and private individuals. A native Central Floridian and basketball enthusiast, he spent six seasons as Broadcast Coordinator for the Orlando Magic Radio Network early in his career. He graduated from UCF in 1994 with a degree in Communications and can’t wait for the Knights to move to the Big XII.