Utah gymnastics: Utes, others scramble to travel to NCAA Regionals
With many years of postseason experience behind him, Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden was savvy enough to go ahead and book flights for Arkansas when he had a hunch the Utes might be headed to Fayetteville for the NCAA regional championships Saturday.
Doing so probably saved the Utes thousands of dollars in travel expenses once the regionals were announced last week.
Other Utah teams weren't so lucky, causing all kinds of headaches and travel nightmares.
BYU, which is headed to Seattle for its regional, was the luckiest since flights were plentiful and available for less than $250. But SUU, Utah State and even the Utes have had to scramble some to make their arrangements. The Aggies are joining Utah in Arkansas while SUU is headed to Minneapolis.
The T-birds are taking a bus to Salt Lake City, leaving at 2 a.m. so they can catch a 6 a.m. flight, because the airline tickets were "only" $600 out of Salt Lake City as opposed to much more out of Las Vegas, SUU's normal departure city. Even though the travel party is small, with just 20 people in the official travel group, coach Scott Bauman estimated the trip is going to cost the university about $25,000.
Bauman feels lucky that his school has a separate travel budget for such events. In the past, postseason events had to come out of his budget. There was one year when the only consolation in failing to make regionals was he didn't know how he would have paid for the trip.
"You still want to keep it as inexpensive and as cheap as possible, but I feel very lucky the current administration has it set up the way they do," Bauman said. "A few years ago, this would have exhausted our whole budget."
Facing the same travel issues as the Utes, the Aggies went so far as to call the Utes to see if the rival wanted to split a charter to Fayetteville. By that time, the Utes had their flight arrangements made, forcing the Aggies to settle for what was available.
Marsden, who estimates he'll spend between $25,000 to $30,000 this weekend, thought he was in the clear when he found enough seats on airlines connecting through Dallas to get a travel party of 23 to Fayetteville. However, he had a hard time finding a bus to rent in Fayetteville, because almost all the buses available in the area were headed to Dallas for the Final Four events.
All of the travel headaches have left the teams wondering if there isn't a better way of devising the regions.
As it stands now, the top 18 teams are seeded based on their regional qualifying score and can be sent anywhere unless they are hosting a regional. The other 18 unseeded teams are placed in their geographical region.
However, as the Aggies' presence in Fayetteville shows, geography doesn't always equate to an easy trip. UCLA and UC-Davis are in the same bind. Limited travel notice and long-distance trips aren't new to college sports by any means. Unfortunately, gymnastics teams don't get travel allowances from the NCAA like the teams participating in the basketball tournaments do. Those teams can have travel parties of up to 75 people, which include the team, band and cheerleaders, paid for by the NCAA.
For gymnastics, a sport that is already considered too expensive to fund, throwing in added travel costs when a team does well only adds to the burden on the sport.
"It's extremely hard," Bauman said. "But I don't know of a good solution. It would help if we had an extra week to prepare."
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