10 College Basketball Conference Games Which Require Crazy Travel

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2014

10 College Basketball Conference Games Which Require Crazy Travel

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    For the 2014-15 college basketball season, there will be 351 Division I college basketball teams spread across all 48 contiguous states as well as Hawaii. Sorry, Alaska and Puerto Rico, your involvement is limited to early-season tournaments.

    Teams are lumped into 32 different conferences, but because of the crazy realignment that has gone on over the past decade—thanks, college football—the old concept of having leagues represent a certain geographic region (or even make numerical sense) is a thing of the past.

    Because of this, we have 10 teams in the Big 12 and 14 apiece in the Atlantic 10 and Big Ten, and schools are nowhere near the southeastern part of the country or within a day's drive of the ocean for which their conference is named for.

    We also have some teams traveling very long distances, because of their conference affiliations, to attend league games.

    We're not talking about the preseason games that schools set up between each other, often involving the exchange of some currency to lure one team a long way to face the other. This is about conference-mandated competition, required games that help determine league titles.

    As the 2014-15 season nears, here's a look at some of the oddest trips that teams have to take to play conference games, putting emphasis on home-and-home series rather than one-sided travel. The one team we didn't factor into this was Hawaii, which is forced into traveling long distances no matter what league it's in and has trips ranging from 2,445 to 2,610 miles for each of its eight Big West road games.

Longest Games Without a Return Trip

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    Because of the size of many conferences, it's not possible for some teams to play a true round-robin arrangement in league play. That means that some teams that are a great distance from each other might have to avoid a long trip to face that far-off foe, while that out-of-the-way counterpart is required to make the trek.

    While this helps some teams in the most expansive of Division I conferences, it hurts others. Long travel has become a necessary evil because of conference realignment, but when one team has to make more of those trips than others, it can seem unfair.

    Here's some of the longest one-way trips that teams will have to make for a league game, without the reciprocation of having that opponent visit them at home during the season:

    • Rutgers at Nebraska, Jan. 8: 1,288 miles
    • Florida State at Syracuse, Jan. 11: 1,232 miles
    • Miami (Fla.) at Syracuse, Jan. 24: 1,416 miles
    • UTEP at Florida International, Feb. 5: 1,886 miles
    • UTSA at Florida Atlantic, Feb. 5: 1,380 miles
    • Arizona at Washington, Feb. 13: 1,537 miles
    • Arizona State at Washington State, Feb. 13: 1,229 miles
    • Florida at Missouri, Feb. 24: 1,008 miles

ACC: Boston College-Miami

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    Dates: Jan. 10 at Miami; Feb. 15 at Boston College

    Distance: 1,493 miles

    With the addition of Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the Atlantic Coast Conference now features teams spread across 10 non-contiguous states, including ones closer to the Great Lakes than the Atlantic Ocean.

    But it's a pair of teams that were part of the ACC's previous expansion, in 2004 and 2005, that provides the longest distances between schools. At least Boston College and Miami can take solace in the fact that each has to make a return trip to even out the massive distance needed to reach their opponent.

    BC makes the voyage first, for what amounts to a one-game journey away from Chestnut Hill sandwiched between visits from Pittsburgh, Boston-area rival Harvard and Virginia. But for Miami, its trek to the Northeast is the tail end of a two-game trip that begins with a visit to Wake Forest.

    Last year only BC had to make a trip in this series, and it fell 69-42 just three days after its emotional upset win at previously unbeaten Syracuse.

American: Connecticut-SMU

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    Dates: Feb. 14 at SMU, March 1 at Connecticut

    Distance: 1,694 miles

    When the private schools that were the backbone of the Big East Conference seceded and took the league's name with it, the conference that was left had to search far and wide for teams to help fill out the lineup.

    And it sure did, pulling in schools from Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas to go along with holdovers from Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Ohio. At least they didn't try to use geography in the new league name, going with the general American Athletic Conference to describe this far-reaching division.

    The 11-team league will add Navy for football in 2015, allowing it to split into divisions, but for basketball they're not so lucky. That's why the block of teams from the south-central portion of the country play as many games in the northeastern part of the U.S. as in their own region.

    The worst of those journeys involves Connecticut and SMU, though at least there are a lot of direct flights from Dallas to airports close to UConn's Storrs campus.

    Defending national champ UConn heads to SMU on the front end of a tough two-game road trip, which wraps up at Memphis. SMU hits Memphis on the way to facing the Huskies, so in a way you could argue that Memphis' placement in the middle of the geographic middle of the league will benefit the Tigers when it comes to dealing with fatigued visitors.

Atlantic 10: Rhode Island-Saint Louis

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    Dates: Jan. 3 at Saint Louis; Feb. 14 at Rhode Island

    Distance: 1,118 miles

    Only nine of the 14 teams in the numerically challenged Atlantic 10 Conference are in states that border the Atlantic, but it's been that way for a while. Dayton joined the league in 1995, despite not being Atlantic-proximate, yet that was nothing compared with Saint Louis coming on board in 2005.

    The Billikens have gotten used to the long travel that comes with the league, particularly when it gets saddled with road trips to the A-10's easternmost schools. This year they have to spend Valentine's Day in Kingston, Rhode Island, a week after going to the Bronx to play Fordham and three days before visiting VCU in Richmond.

    Rhode Island at least gets its longest trip out of the way early, opening conference action at Saint Louis for its only trip to the western half of the league until playing March 3 at Dayton.

Big East: Creighton-Providence

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    Dates: Dec. 31 at Providence; Jan. 17 at Creighton

    Distance: 1,424 miles

    When the so-called "Catholic 7" broke away from the Big East after the 2012-13 season, the private institutions looked for schools with similar morals and values who also happened to have strong basketball programs.

    Location wasn't much of an issue, and there wasn't much concern that the new version of the Big East would be as Midwestern-centric as it was Eastern.

    Schools from Indiana (Butler) and Ohio (Xavier) made sense to help fill the space between Chicago's DePaul, Milwaukee's Marquette and the five schools that were actually along the East Coast. But Omaha, Nebraska?

    Having Creighton in the Big East worked out great in the conference's first season, thanks to scoring machine Doug McDermott. But he's graduated now, yet the Blue Jays remain as that team that's 471 miles from its closest league opponent, DePaul.

    Triple that distance, and you're still 13 miles away from Providence, Rhode Island, where Creighton opens Big East play this season and where it will likely be ringing in the New Year since the game has a 7:30 p.m. ET tip-off time. The Blue Jays then head down to Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., before an 1,150-mile trip home.

    Providence makes its visit to Omaha a few weeks later, but it's a one-off destination, and it comes after a two-game home stand and before another pair of games at the Dunkin Donuts Center.

Big 12: Texas Tech-West Virginia

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    Dates: Jan. 5 at Texas Tech; Jan. 31 at West Virginia

    Distance: 1,465 miles

    Among power conferences, the Big 12 was the most adversely affected by the recent realignment craze, first losing Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12. When Missouri and Texas A&M bolted for the SEC, the league had to take action and replenish its roster of teams.

    TCU was a great fit, especially geographically, but to get back to an even 10 schools, it really had to reach. And when we say reach, we mean it.

    West Virginia is not just far away from the rest of the conference, it's also in a completely different time zone from the other nine schools. Morgantown is no fewer than 871 miles from every other school in the Big 12, while among the rest of the league, the longest trip is 963 miles between Texas and Iowa State.

    The Texas Tech-West Virginia gap is the widest of them all, and because the Big 12 is the only power conference that's able to play a true round-robin schedule, there's no avoiding this trip every so often.

    West Virginia at least gets to combine the visit to Lubbock with the end of a stop in Fort Worth, to face TCU two days earlier. There's not a natural travel partner for Tech when it heads east, though, so it means the Red Raiders first go to Oklahoma before hitting Morgantown three days later.

Big Sky: North Dakota-Sacramento State

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    Dates: Jan. 8 at North Dakota; Feb. 21 at Sacramento State

    Distance: 1,764 miles

    With 12 teams spread across—literally—nine states that touch the borders of both Canada and Mexico, as well as the entire U.S. Pacific Coast, the Big Sky has maybe one of the most well-fitting conference names. With the long road trips and flights that come with this league, the players and coaches probably do a lot of killing time staring up at the sky while traveling.

    That travel somehow got a lot longer in 2012 when the Big Sky added North Dakota, which is 829 miles from nearest foe Montana State and more than 1,000 miles from everyone else.

    Basketball teams only play 18 league games in 2014-15, down from 20 the year before because of the addition of Idaho as a 12th member. Not all of the trips are required anymore, but North Dakota is still saddled with having to make the longest one—to Sacramento.

    It comes on a tail end of a two-game swing to the West Coast, hitting Portland State two days before. For Sacramento State, it heads to Grand Forks before doubling back to Greeley, Colorado, to face Northern Colorado. 

Big Ten: Maryland-Nebraska

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    Dates: Feb. 19 at Maryland; March 8 at Nebraska

    Distance: 1,206 miles

    Nebraska's move to the Big Ten in 2011 came with some understanding by the Cornhuskers that their travel budget would need to increase. Little did they know just how much it would need to be bolstered, as three years later Rutgers and Maryland were added to spread the conference from the Great Plains to the Mid-Atlantic.

    Nebraska doesn't have to visit both of those schools—that distinction, among westernmost Big Ten teams, goes to Wisconsin—but it is required to make the longest possible trip the conference offers. And the Huskers will be doing so after first visiting Purdue and before coming home for a critical matchup with Iowa.

    For Maryland, its inaugural trip to Lincoln will wrap up its first season of Big Ten play, on the back end of the oddly paired Rutgers-Nebraska road trip.

Summit League: Denver-IPFW

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    Dates: Jan. 8 at IPFW; Feb. 19 at Denver

    Distance: 1,148 miles

    The Summit League used to be called the Mid-Continent Conference, which seemed a more fitting name for a league with most of its teams spread across the Midwest and the Plains states. Only when Denver joined the lineup in 2013, moving from the Western Athletic Conference (after previously being in the Sun Belt!), was there actually a school that was located anywhere near the summit of an actual mountain.

    Descriptor issues aside, the Summit has nine teams spread across six states but with a gap in-between. That gap is enhanced by the distance between westernmost Denver and a pair of schools in Indiana, and with everyone facing each other twice in league play, that means long trips for everybody.

    Denver has its eight league road games lumped into three manageable (yet, as a result, extended) road trips, with the visit to IPFW (which stands for Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne) early on and two days before playing at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis).

    Those schools head to Denver in mid-February, but IPFW ends up swinging by North Dakota State on the way back.

WAC: Seattle-UTPA

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    Dates: Jan. 15 at Seattle; Feb. 15 at Texas-Pan American

    Distance: 2,374 miles

    Aside from the Big West Conference, which by virtue of allowing Hawaii to join its ranks makes every one of the California-based teams stuck with at least one super-long trip, no other league has travel as ridiculous as the Western Athletic Conference.

    The fact the WAC still exists is a testament to the dedication of league officials for doing whatever it possibly could to find teams willing to join a conference that once swelled to 16 members but really should have died after most of its schools left for the Mountain West or others left because of football.

    But the trade-off for taking in pretty much all comers is a league that might want to change the "W" in its name from Western to "Wherever."

    In case you're not familiar with the WAC, here's the 2014-15 lineup of teams for basketball:

    • Cal State Bakersfield
    • Chicago State
    • Grand Canyon
    • Missouri-Kansas City
    • New Mexico State
    • Seattle
    • Texas Pan-American
    • Utah Valley

    Yup—eight schools, eight states and three time zones. Nearest members: 389 miles, the distance between Las Cruces (NMSU) and Phoenix (Grand Canyon).

    The nearest opponent for Seattle is Utah Valley, in Orem, a good 879 miles away, while Texas-Pan American is 826 miles from NMSU. And that Seattle-UTPA trip? Yeah, it's the longest one in the country outside of the Big West's trips to and from Hawaii.

    With teams so spread out, the likelihood of winning on the road seemed scant, but there were quite a few conference games taken by the road teams in 2013-14. UTPA won more on the road in WAC play (three) than at home (two). 

West Coast: Gonzaga-San Diego

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    Dates: Dec. 29 at San Diego; Feb. 26 at Gonzaga

    Distance: 1,323 miles

    Even the West Coast Conference, one of the more stable leagues in Division I, drank from the fountain of expansion and realignment in the past few years, taking on BYU after it bolted the Mountain West to be independent in football and then adding old member Pacific.

    The BYU addition put some extra miles onto the odometer for most schools, since the school is in Provo, Utah, and nowhere near any other members, but it was not so much that anyone noticed. This league made up of religious-based institutions stretches up and down the West Coast—hey, the name fits!—with teams in Oregon and Washington spending a lot of time in California.

    A longstanding road trip is the longest in this league, that one between northernmost Gonzaga (in Spokane, Washington) and San Diego. Though easily accessible by plane (usually with a stopover in Seattle), it's still a bit of a haul.

    It'll be right in the middle of an around-the-league road trip for Gonzaga, which opens with three straight away from home, starting with going to BYU, then two days later hitting San Diego but stopping by Portland on the way home. San Diego makes the same such jaunt to end the conference slate, starting at BYU and finishing in Portland by way of Gonzaga.

    Mileage information provided by DistanceBetweenCities.net.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.