Away Games 2013

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bus ride
And miles to go...

There’s one drill that all East Carolina student athletes know by heart. It’s the ritual of the away game – the long bus ride or cramped charter flight to another school hundreds of miles away.

Then after the game, another long trip home.

By Steve Tuttle                                  Photography by Jay Clark

Many Pirate fans applauded East Carolina University’s move to the Big East Conference because they believe it offers national exposure for ECU’s football program. But in frequent flyer miles at least, the Pirates have competed on a national stage for years as a member of Conference USA, whose name accurately describes its geographic footprint.

As a member of C-USA since 1997, ECU has regularly competed against four schools in Texas, one in Oklahoma and three others on or near the Mississippi River. Only two other conference schools--the University of Central Florida in Orlando, 645 miles away, and Marshall University in West Virginia, 456 miles away--are in the same time zone as East Carolina.

ECU’s current travel schedule, in fact, has earned it a spot in the college sports record books. According to C-USA officials, the second-longest distance that any two NCAA Division I colleges travel to play a conference football game is when East Carolina takes the field against the University of Texas-El Paso. It’s 1,686 miles from Greenville to El Paso, or 3,376 miles round trip for the visiting team, as when the Miners flew into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for a 28-18 loss in September.

Given the fluid nature of conference affiliations, it’s not clear which schools ECU will compete against when it and five other current C-USA teams begin playing football in the Big East in 2014. It also remained undecided which conference ECU’s 18 other sports teams would join. Athletics Director Terry Holland says he hopes all ECU teams wind up in a new East Coast division of the Big East but officials say even then the Pirates likely still will play some far-flung conference games.


Nick Floyd, executive associate athletics director, says it requires detailed planning and a rugged transportation process to safely move groups of student athletes across such long distances. One or another team seems to be forever departing or returning (see chart), accompanied by mounds of equipment and luggage. The Athletics Department is budgeted to spend $2.5 million this school year for away-game travel, lodging and meals, according to Director of Athletic Business Barry Brickman. He says that’s up 36 percent from six years ago. This year’s budget included $427,000 earmarked for travel to a post-season bowl game.

Managing away-game travel is so complex that ECU recently contracted out that function to Anthony Travel of Dallas, Texas. The agency, which specializes in serving university sports teams, represents more than 50 colleges, including Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. An Anthony Travel employee now is housed within the Athletics Department and works directly with coaches and staff to arrange commercial and charter flights, book hotel rooms and plan meals. Brickman says he believes Anthony Travel’s block-booking power and connections within the travel industry will result in some cost savings.


Every away game is a journey

The women’s basketball team’s Nov. 9 game at the College William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., was one of the shortest distances the team traveled this season. Even that quick trip required detailed planning. Here’s the travel schedule:

Thursday, Nov. 8
3:00 p.m. - Bus arrives.  
3:45 p.m. - Load bus.
4:00 p.m. - Depart for Williamsburg.
7:30 p.m. - Arrive restaurant. Team meal.
8:30 p.m. - Depart restaurant for hotel.
8:40 p.m. - Arrive hotel. Keys distributed.

Friday, Nov. 9
8:00 a.m.   - Team breakfast.
9:00 a.m.   - Study hall.
10:40 a.m. - Leave hotel for arena.
12:00 p.m. - Depart arena, lunch at hotel.
1:00 p.m.   - Relax, study, chores.
3:20 p.m.   - Leave hotel.
3:30 p.m.   - Arrive arena.
7:30 p.m.   - Depart for home.
11:00 p.m. - Arrive in Greenville.


This article will appear in the Spring 2013 issue of East magazine, available Feb. 22.