When the news broke in late November of last year that California would open its season against Hawaii in Sydney, Australia, the cool factor instantly kicked in.
Coaches and players from both sides called it a “once in a lifetime” experience. And it is.
But the logistics of such an undertaking are also kicking in. And with less than a month to go, there is still work to be done on and off the field.
“We’ve been working on this really since January,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. “The first step for us was getting passports for everybody. Very few of our players had passports. You can imagine trying to get passports for 120 kids, so that was a challenge in itself … When you’re taking 300 people to Australia to go participate in a game, there’s a lot of moving parts.”
Dykes said at this point they are just “tying up loose ends.”
“The team working behind the scenes in Sydney has been outstanding – first class every step of the way,” Mike Williams, Cal’s director of athletics said in an email to ESPN.com. “We are looking forward to a great week in New South Wales when we arrive in a little over three weeks, with several media and cultural events highlighting our list of activities leading up to game day.”
The benefits won’t just be cultural. Cal’s athletic department stands to make approximately $1 million more than it would had the Bears hosted a lower-tier FCS program.
ESPN will carry the game in Sydney live with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. PT on Aug. 26. But with the time change, it’s actually noon on Aug. 27 in Australia.
Given the length of the trip Cal had to receive a waiver from the NCAA to play early so they could get the extra week off in between the season opener and their second game on Sept. 10 at San Diego State. Plus, the plane ride itself can be daunting. Dykes said he consulted with several NFL coaches who have taken their teams to Europe to get some ideas.
“We’re going to use some compression things to try to make it easier on their legs and the recovery process,” Dykes said. “We’ve got a great plan in terms of getting our guys up and walking them around the airplane and exercising, so we’ll go straight from landing on Tuesday morning to practice and try to get them acclimated as quickly as we can and ready to play by Saturday.”
So Netflix and chill is out.
This will be the first game played in Sydney and the first played in Australia since BYU and Colorado State met in 1987.
The accelerated schedule means an early camp opening. And probably a quick call at quarterback as the Bears look to replace Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Graduate transfer Davis Webb joins the competition with Chase Forrest and Ross Bowers.
“We’re hoping it happens quickly,” Dykes said. “We’re hoping it’s obvious to all of us quickly. But we’ll decide when we think it’s the best time to decide. It could be five practices in, could be a week in, could be two weeks in. I think the sooner the better for us, but it’s a big decision. It’s a decision that you want to let play out, and it’s an important decision so you have to make sure you have enough credible evidence to base a decision on.”