Commentary

Hawaii, rest of the WAC get used to long trips

Originally Published: November 23, 2007
By Kyle Whelliston | Special to ESPN.com

Over the past few years, the Manhattan Jaspers have been true mid-major road warriors. In December 2005, the team spent a weekend at North Dakota State and South Dakota State, a trip strung together with a long, cold bus ride through the plains. A home BracketBusters matchup with faraway Long Beach State two months later meant that a 2,800-mile return trip was necessary the next season.

But none of that will happen this season.

Travel log
10 fewest miles
1,821 - Manhattan
2,153 - Saint Peter's
2,640 - Central Connecticut State
2,666 - Tennessee State
2,698 - Columbia
2,736 - Sacred Heart
2,916 - Murray State
3,133 - Fairleigh Dickinson
3,176 - Quinnipiac
3,332 - Lehigh

10 most miles
38,621 - Hawaii
24,941 - New Mexico State
21,009 - Nevada
20,831 - Louisiana Tech
20,640 - Texas-Pan American
20,221 - Idaho
20,152 - Utah Valley State
19,943 - San Jose State
19,932 - Saint John's
19,666 - Gonzaga

*Note: These calculations are point-to-point between games in miles, as the crow flies.

We measured every Division I team's travel path for the 2007-08 season from game to game, gym to gym, as the crow flies. And the team with the least amount of travel this season is the Jaspers, with just 1,821 miles to cover between their opening contest at NJIT (a more-than-convincing 70-28 win) and their final regular-season game March 2 against Iona. From now until March, Manhattan won't stray farther than 350 miles away from its Draddy Gymnasium home, never traveling farther south than Baltimore or west of Buffalo. The team will only make three overnight trips all season, including a single nonconference sleepover when it faces Boston University on Dec. 1. And with a home BracketBusters game in February, there won't be any surprise trips this time around.

"It wasn't purposely done by design," Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen said. "We didn't try to schedule so that we'd travel the fewest miles of anyone. We just want our guys to attend as many classes as they can, so we'll try to pass on any games that take them out of their regular school schedule. … Last year's trip to California, for instance, was during the intersession break. We also want to give alumni, fans and students who live around here a chance to be able to see their team play as much as possible."

On the opposite end of the travel scale, Hawai'i has already eclipsed the Jaspers' total season mileage in a single day. Just hours after the Warriors dispatched Alcorn State, 84-55 at home on Sunday night (or early Monday morning, Manhattan time), the team caught a red-eye flight to the American southwest via Los Angeles for a Wednesday date with New Mexico. That's 3,222 miles from gym to gym, a trip long enough to exhaust even the hardiest crow.

"Getting quality rest has always been the hardest thing for us on the road," Hawaii coach Bob Nash explained on Tuesday from the team's Albuquerque hotel. "You can't ask these guys to go to bed at 9, 10 o'clock. They can't sleep. They just toss and turn or watch TV. It's only 6, 7 o'clock in the evening back home."

Hawaii is scheduled to travel a whopping 38,621 miles this season, easily the most of any team in Division I. And that doesn't even count a TBA BracketBusters road game in February.

"Making seven, eight trips across the Pacific every year does take its toll," said Nash, a veteran of more than two decades of travel as a Hawaii player and coach. "You're cramped up, maybe you've got some guy in front of you with his seat all the way back. We try to travel during the day as much as possible so we don't have to sleep in a sitting position all the time. But there's just so much we can do. … No matter what, we still have to adjust to all the time changes and the altitude differences from one place to another. It's not fun.

"Because of where we live, in order to survive, we've got to make the trips."

The Warriors' affiliation with the Western Athletic Conference means that the other eight member schools have to make the trips too -- once a year, every year. After Hawaii, the next three highest-mileage squads are all soon-to-be road-weary WAC teams: New Mexico State, Nevada and eastern outpost Louisiana Tech. All three will travel at least 20,000 miles during the 2007-08 season, including the annual trip over the ocean.

But unlike the participants at this week's Maui Invitational, WAC visitors don't receive the full tourist treatment when they get to the islands -- no lei ceremony or ukulele music for them when they touch down on the tarmac.

"We don't get any of that," said San Jose State coach George Nessman, who'll make his third Hawaii trip as Spartans bench boss on Jan. 14. "We're lucky people remember to pick up our baggage and put it on the carousel. It's a conference game. We go over there and then we come back. We do stay on the beach in Waikiki … but we don't get to go to the beach. We look at it as a business trip."

Nessman's charges are ticketed for 19,943 miles of business travel in 2007-08, but they certainly aren't shying away from life on the road. This past summer, San Jose State took the school's first-ever foreign trip, an excursion to the United Kingdom. That's not included in the season total, but long trips to Michigan State and Middle Tennessee State's exempt tournament in Murfreesboro are.

"We'd rather be at home, certainly," said Nessman, coming off a 5-25 campaign a season ago. "Where we are as a program doesn't allow that though. … We've been a basketball afterthought pretty much since we came into Division I. We're working hard to change that, but for now we can't pay teams to come in to our building. So we don't end up with a lot of home games."

Those pay-for play "guarantee" games are a hard reality in college basketball, and there are enough well-heeled programs that can pay tens of thousands of dollars to bring in teams from lower conferences. Schools from the two lowest leagues in the RPI, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic, traditionally take to the road every November and December, gathering five-figure checks to fund their relatively tiny athletic budgets. MEAC teams will travel an average of 10,388 miles this season, while SWAC schools will average 9,254 miles.

Julian Sensely
AP Photo/ Derek AndersonLife is never easy on the road for the Hawaii Warriors.

And then there are the hardest-luck cases of all. Independent Division I teams are responsible for scheduling each and every one of their 28 games themselves, with no set dates mandated by a central league office. To help alleviate the scheduling problem, the D-I independents got together before the 2006-07 season to form a scheduling consortium called the United Basketball League, an unofficial "conference" with no NCAA bid but with the sole purpose of helping league-less teams fill out their slates.

"Our biggest trouble as independents is finding games late in the year," said Texas-Pan American coach Tom Schuberth, who will travel 20,640 miles with his Broncs this season. "So our athletic directors got together and decided to form a league, where our teams would play home-and-home on weekends in January and February. It worked out great for us last year, but the problem was that we lost three of those teams to the Summit League over the summer. So that kind of broke up."

Indeed, the coaching staffs at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, South Dakota State and North Dakota State no longer have to make all those extra scheduling calls during the summers after joining the Summit. And IPFW saw instant benefits of league affiliation. After traveling 12,384 miles last season, the Mastodons will be on the road for only 8,172 in 2007-08, cutting their mileage by more than one-third. But their new Summit League brethren aren't quite as fortunate. Remote NDSU saw its mileage actually go up after joining the conference, from 15,109 miles in 2006-07 to 15,599 miles in 2007-08.

But the travel issues faced by teams in the wide, wild West are literally miles away from the Bronx. Manhattan won't leave the Eastern time zone unless it makes the NCAA Tournament and is assigned to a faraway locale. But at the very least, the Jaspers will spend the entire season without cramped legs, lost baggage or TSA checkpoints.

"Those are nice things to avoid if you can, whether you're a basketball team or just a member of the general public," Rohrssen said. "How many people really enjoy going to an airport, enjoy ticketing? Who enjoys going through security, or waiting at a gate for an airplane that's delayed at another airport? Who really wants any of that?"

Kyle Whelliston is the national mid-major reporter for Basketball Times and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Kyle Whelliston

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
Kyle Whelliston has contributed to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage since 2005. He covers mid-major programs for Basketball Times magazine, and will have a basketball travelogue of the 2008-09 season published next summer. Whelliston also founded midmajority.com and statistical database site Basketball State (bbstate.com).