Change gives teams wings

A lifted Big Ten restriction on flying to away games could alter competition.

by Lora Pabst

There might be more Gophers flying on planes in the future.

University officials can now decide if varsity teams fly or bus to their games, creating a less-restricted, but possibly more competitive, environment among schools in the Big Ten conference.

This fall, Big Ten conference athletics directors decided to repeal a rule that required teams to drive to any destination within 150 miles.

Under the previous rule, Minnesota basketball and football teams could fly to every school in the Big Ten except Wisconsin.

Now, all teams can fly to every Big Ten school.

The University has always been able to fly more than any school in the Big Ten, except Penn State.

This year the Wisconsin football team took advantage of the rule change by flying to the Minnesota-Wisconsin game at the Metrodome in October, University of Wisconsin officials said.

This decision could cause the University of Minnesota to alter its travel plans, partly to remain competitive for recruiting purposes.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the Minnesota football team might fly to Wisconsin next year because of the new rule and Wisconsin’s decision.

“It’s part of the competition of competing in the Big Ten,” he said. “It puts a little more pressure for us to fly.”

Recruits might choose a university based on how often the team flies versus drives to games, Maturi said.

Frank Kara, University director of athletics compliance, said the Big Ten usually makes rules to “level the playing field” among the schools.

“Athletics is a business where if one school does something, the other schools want to do it,” he said.

Now all schools in the Big Ten are able to fly as often as Minnesota and Penn State previously could.

The cost of transporting Big Ten teams can be a major expense. The original Big Ten rule was in place to promote financial responsibility, Maturi said.

Because the University could already fly to most schools in the Big Ten, the rule won’t have as significant a financial impact on the University as it might at some of the other Big Ten schools.

Athletics Chief Financial Officer Liz Eull said the decision to bus or fly isn’t based completely on the cost difference. There are other considerations, such as missed class time and food and lodging expenses.

“If you bus, you spend more in food and lodging,” she said.

Student-athletes might miss more class when they drive to games. They are allowed to miss only nine days a semester.

The previous rule had a component in which teams had the option to drive to a game and fly home or vice versa. For Minnesota, this applied when travelling to and from Wisconsin.

The University saved approximatley $9,000 by using this option to split driving and flying when traveling to Wisconsin, Eull said.

If the football team flies both ways to Wisconsin next year, the athletics department would miss out on these $9,000 in savings.

The football team charters planes to transport the team and staff members to and from games. The men’s and women’s basketball teams and the volleyball team sometimes charter flights if they have a midweek game.

Eull said this option is more expensive than a commercial flight, but when it comes to transporting one of the larger teams and its staff, it is common practice among Big Ten schools.

Busing is standard travel for some of the smaller teams and the hockey teams, which are in a different conference.

Maturi said busing teams to closer locations can provide student-athletes time to do homework and relax before competition.