College football teams travel farther than ever for road games
Shortly after the shock announcement that Texas and Oklahoma would leave the Big 12 for the SEC, the despised conference recharged with the planned addition of four teams that cover almost the entire expanse of the country. The most distant, Brigham Young and Central Florida, are 1,900 miles a part – 2,300 miles by car, for one of the longest conference car trips imaginable. But the new Big 12 will fit right into the college football landscape: every Power Five conference, except the SEC, already has member schools over 1,000 miles apart.1
The conference realignment tested and made a mockery limits of geography. Lines that were once drawn proximity to campus and in the supposed best interest of student-athletes quickly twisted and redesigned around media markets and potential revenue. The main intermediaries in sport – the CAC, Large 12, Big ten, Pac-12 and SECOND – each has billion dollar television rights contracts, and the addition of new member schools reopens these already lucrative deals. Superconference plans are available free online.
All of this contributes to the constant increase in air miles for teams, who are traveling more than ever. But how much do all these trips matter? Does this affect the result on the pitch? To find out, FiveThirtyEight analyzed travel distance data from ESPN Stats and Information Group for conference games from the 2005 to 2019 seasons.2 assess to what extent and to what extent teams are on the move.
From 2005 to 2019, road teams that completed less than 200 miles won 42.9% of the time, the highest winning percentage of all 200 mile increments analyzed. By comparison, teams that have covered more than 1,000 miles have won 38.2% of their matches. And although this is a small sample, teams that have covered over 2,000 miles have surprisingly gained 41.3% of the time.
The 2021 season has been a strong showcase for road warriors. Both in and out of conference games, road teams that have covered more than 1,000 miles have won at the fourth highest rate of the past decade: 38% of the time at all levels and 46.7% of the time. time in conference match. The most notable of those long road victories then was No. 11 Oregon breathtaking victory to then-No. 2 Ohio State in September, for which the Ducks have traveled over 2,000 miles, flying in three time zones.
Other outsiders also find success far from their friendly limits. Non-conference underdogs won 18.8% of their games played at 1,000 miles or more, the second highest rate in the playoff era. In conference, the underdogs won 31.6% of those games, also the second highest score of the playoff era.
Conversely, teams that have traveled less than 200 miles have won just 35.9% of non-conference clashes this season, the second-lowest single-season score in the past seven seasons, and just 44.1 % of time in a conference game, the fourth weakest in the playoff era.
So how many schools are affected – and which are the most affected?
A Reddit Analysis of the 2021 Football Bowl Subdivision schedule revealed that 41 teams average trips of at least 600 miles3 for on-site outdoor and neutral games. Each conference includes at least one team that will cover over 2,500 miles in total for road and conference games this season.
|Hawaii||West Mountain||2 852.9||2,757.0||19 970|
|UTEP||United States Conference||893.2||992.5||5 359|
|State of texas||Sun Belt||868.0||979.0||5 208|
|West Virginia||Large 12||844.2||945.0||5,065|
|Rutgers||Big ten||488.5||570.0||2 931|
|Kent State||half american||361.3||242.0||2,529|
Hawaii of course leads the field – like every season, surrounded by that pesky Pacific Ocean – with an average distance of 2,852.9 miles for away games. And Hawaii’s frequent flyer miles skews things for Mountain West, making it the busiest conference; its schools average 901.9 miles when commuting to away games. In the non-Mountain West department (and outside independent schools), the conference with the longest average road trip is the Pac-12, with 706.1 miles.
The share of FBS-level conference games that required a hike of 500 miles or more increased from 36% in 2005 to 40.3% in 2019, and they fell from 28% to 36.5% among Power Five teams. . The share of conference games requiring a 1,000-mile trip also increased: from 6.7% to 7.6% at the FBS level and from 2.2% to 4.1% at the Power Five level.
And that means there are fewer fights in the yard now. The share of games that required a road trip of less than 200 miles increased from 20.1% to 18% at FBS level and from 21.3% to 17.3% at Power Five level.
There is a lot of research to suggest that travel effects and circadian rhythms affect the performance of the team. It turns out that it’s usually difficult to go long distances and then play at peak levels. Have the road warriors crossed a milestone this season? Only time will tell if the trend continues. But as the power of the conference grows and stock market capital remains king, thousand mile, multi-time zone travel will continue to be the expectation in college football. That should make some athletes who have traveled a lot, at the very least.
Discover our latest college football predictions.