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Actual Travel -- Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Publication Date: February 22, 2005

Dang, That's Really a Long Way

The combination of somebody willing to ask questions, somebody willing to answer them, and a good way to get the two together can produce some pretty interesting stuff some times. Last week, after writing about some of the theoretical limits of travel, I decided to find out more about what was really going on out there. I sent out a brief survey described below to my mass list of SID addresses (which is never as accurate as I like). As an example of what I love about SID's, I got back 74 responses from all over the place, most of them within a couple of hours. That's not enough for any sort of scientific proof of anything, but it did give a good feel for what's actually going on out there.

The upshot of what I found is that college baseball players spend an awful lot of time on buses. Mindnumbingly large amounts of time. Time that can only be measured in different units than hours -- something like movies watched or books read is probably better suited. Enough time that you wonder how any of them manage to stay eligible academically, much less excel the way many of them do. This is true at pretty much every level of the game -- SEC, ACC, and Big 12 teams drive about as much as anyone; Pac 10 teams would if they weren't so spread out. In practical terms, the 300-mile limit I talked about last week is only held to by some portion of the teams in the Northeast and Midwest (bad sampling on my part before making that assumption; I'm glad I checked it in the long run). In practice, the actual limit is around 400 miles at a minimum, and is much longer for a lot of teams.

So, on to the actual questions:

How many times this year will your team fly to a game or series?

The average is a bit less then 3, but that's not all that accurate (it's correct, it's just misleading). 13 of the teams won't fly at all this year (all of these answers are regular season only, of course, since there's no way to tell yet after that), and another 19 (the modal value) will only fly once -- the median value is 2. The mean, though, is skewed by the fact that some of the extreme cases will fly 7 or more times, capped off by 9 flights for Oregon State. In general, if you're trying to accumulate those frequent flyer miles, the Northwest corner is the place to be; Gonzaga, Portland, Washington, and Oregon State all finish at the high end of the scale. That's not the most isolated section of the country, but I suspect the Great Plains teams, most of whom are new to D1, don't quite have the budget to fly quite as much, so they're doing a huge amount of driving. The other determining factor, other than sheer isolation, appears to logically enough be conference shape -- Conference USA teams fly quite a bit, as do, despite their limited budgets, Mid-Continent teams. I don't have quite enough data to be willing to declare this for sure, but it looks like private schools may fly a bit more than their nearby public counterparts.

When you do fly, do you use commercial flights or charters?

Virtually everyone uses commercial flights. For the four or five teams that don't, it's more a matter of remoteness from a large airport than a matter of budget (and, in at least one case, a matter of leveraging the university's flight department). It's a long enough drive from Starkville or College Station to anywhere useful that you might as well go ahead and do the charter.

What is the usual maximum distance that your team will drive for a game?

The answers were both scattered and, quite reasonably, split between expression in mileage and in time. Scarily enough, over a third of the responses were either 10 hours or more (including quite a few 12-hour answers) or 700 miles or more. Even assuming that this only includes weekend trips, that leaves the possibility of quite a few 3 AM Monday morning returns. Even teams that fly quite a lot, relatively speaking, like New Mexico State, often try to save money by driving within a 700-miles radius. There does seem to be a recognition, possibly subconscious, of the airfare pricing issues I talked about last week -- potential road trips seem to be classified into flying and driving without much more distinction than that.

What's the longest trip that you'll make this season?

Generally, this answer matched the answer above, which implies that there's usually not a set policy but rather a decision made each time.

What percentage of your team's budget goes to travel costs?

I only got responses from about half the surveys on this one, and those answers were all over the map. The significance of that appears to actually be that there's not a whole lot of consistency in the way that budgets are designed (and there's no real reason there should be) -- some schools include salaries in the main budget, some don't. Some have a separate operating budget, some don't. Reading between the lines, it appears that the three main budget items, however they're designated, are salaries, scholarships, and travel. The big dividing line financially seems to be whether there's money designated for recruiting expenses; absolutely everyone seems to include stadium and facility upgrades as off-budget items. There's a lot of interpretation in this, but it appears that most folks spend around 25% of their total baseball outlay on travel.

Thanks to all the SID's who responded or got a coach to respond; this was enlightening.

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