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Thursday, September 15, 2011
Traveling after realignment

By Max Olson
HornsNation

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Of all the numbers that come into play as Texas weighs its conference realignment options, one of the most important will be 1,300.

That's the average distance, in miles, that UT would have to travel for road games against any team presently in the Pac-12. That's a big difference compared to the 481-mile average between Austin and its Big 12 opponents.

Sure, trips to outposts like Pullman, Wash., would not occur every year. Especially if, as one realignment model proposes, Texas is joined in the trip west by a trio of Big 12 allies. Regardless of how the dust ultimately settles, though, Texas' athletic department will face higher travel costs than ever, should it choose to leave the Big 12.

Osborne
Nebraska athletics director Tom Osborne saw his expenses grow with the Cornhuskers move to the Big Ten.

At Nebraska, those costs are being realized today. According to officials in the athletics department, the department's travel budget is $1 million greater than in years past, to accommodate the move to the Big Ten. Three- and four-hour bus trips are no longer an option for its 21 varsity teams.

Nebraska assistant athletic director Jeff Jamrog has seen the largest increase in football travel spending, at nearly $200,000. Though ponying up for chartered flights across Big Ten country took up the greatest chunk of that new budget, Jamrog said booking hotels was far tougher.

And few accommodations were more challenging than Nebraska's Nov. 12 trip to Penn State. A Ramada Inn located minutes away from PSU's campus was Jamrog's only option.

"The alternative was staying about an hour away, and Coach [Bo] Pelini is a big believer in trying to stay as close as we can to the stadium," Jamrog said. "So that was a challenge."

Armed with that leverage, the hotel had no need to offer Nebraska a reduced rate. Jamrog eventually negotiated the price down to $280 per room.

That's not a fun game to play when you've already developed an almost superstitious reliance on staying at the same hotels for Big 12 road games. Ending those business relationships and quickly forging new ones isn't easy, and Jamrog did sweat a bit when he learned Nebraska was playing at Penn State and another faraway foe, Michigan, in its first Big Ten football season.

Nebraska knows the feeling of not being in Kansas anymore. But the damage to NU's wallet hasn't been as bad as initially expected, at least not in the eyes of its legendary athletic director.

"Coach [Tom] Osborne was actually pretty pleased when he saw the final numbers come in from football," Jamrog said. "And if he's happy, we're happy."

When it comes to the athletic budget, Texas is usually pretty happy. According to university officials, the Longhorns' budget topped $140 million in fiscal year 2010-11. The budget allotted $8 million to travel expenses for athletics. While Texas has the largest athletics budget in the country, a possible conference shift could create added expenses that could be tough on its non-revenue sports.

That will be the case for Nebraska's volleyball program. Now that it is in the Big Ten, Nebraska eventually will have to play midweek games at schools that are, on average, more than 600 miles away.

But the Huskers lucked out for year one in the Big Ten: Their only weekday road test is a Tuesday night match in Iowa City. Gone, though, are the days when the team could take a bus to Kansas State and back for $1,500.

"You're not going to get a charter plane for that cost," said Lindsay Peterson, Nebraska volleyball's director of operations. "On average, you're looking at around $28,000 a flight up, to even $35,000 to $40,000 depending on where you're going."

So Peterson and the program will get creative this fall. They'll bus to Iowa City to play Iowa. They'll take a commercial flight to Chicago to play Northwestern. They'll even charter a bus from Michigan State to Michigan for matches on back-to-back nights.

"I would say the biggest challenge on the girls is playing those matches on back-to-back nights," Peterson said. "But it's not that big a difference when you look at the logistics of it all."

For Nebraska, the logistics of changing conferences required a full year of preparation. Texas and its Big 12 peers won't get that luxury if they bolt for greener pastures with the intention of competing in their new leagues in 2012.

In fact, that's something Texas A&M associate AD Tim Cassidy brought up while chatting with Jamrog a week ago. Cassidy was in Lincoln to watch his son, Austin, play safety for the Huskers.

"He said he may be giving me a call, if they do move, and asking me how we went about our transition," Jamrog said. "He's going to have a lot of work to do."

Jamrog is glad he isn't in Cassidy's shoes right now, and he knows Nebraska's move to the Big Ten could end up being a bit of an exception when the realignment comes to an end. The Cornhuskers landed in a geographically logical destination, and most Big 12 schools might not have that choice right now.

"It's going to be a little longer travel for us," Jamrog said, "but if this conference realignment does happen, there's going to be some pretty tough trips if you change two time zones. If you start playing in a conference with two time zone changes, that's some serious travel."

Because of that, he and Peterson won't complain about the rising cost of playing on the road in their new conference.

These days, you can't put a price on stability.

Max Olson is a freelance writer.