Travel for the football team and fans are two decidedly different issues, but they often get lumped together when discussing the effect of the western swings the Mountaineers will make for their conference road games. It's important, however, to separate those two items – something that Holgorsend did effectively at West Virginia's Big 12 Media Day on Tuesday.
Holgorsen's main point on road game travel is to keep the routine the same – and the only difference he sees in a flight to UConn and one to Texas is that the latter will be an extra hour and a half or so. Everything else, from the departure procedure to the schedule the day before and the day of the game, will remain the same, and that's the most critical thing in his view.
"The travel comes up. That's obviously been a big topic of discussion. And to me it doesn't -- it's not going to affect us, I don't think. You've got to be smart about it," he observed. "Last year it didn't matter if we were getting on a plane and flying one hour and getting on a plane and flying two hours to Tampa, Fla. So basically the road games are going to be an airplane ride. So you're going to jump on a plane and fly a couple of hours no matter where you go. From there it's just all about routine. So from a travel standpoint, for us, anyway, I don't view it as being a big deal."
Of course, Holgorsen is viewing the travel from the perspective of a seasoned adult, not from the viewpoint of a 19- or 20-year old, who might wonder why it's taking twice as long to fly to games this year as opposed to last year. That perspective reminds of a story John Madden told in one of his books, in which he was trying to make a point that football players are creatures of habit. He noted that some players would get upset when the bus ride from the airport to the hotel took longer than normal, so he made sure to tell his team what the anticipated length would be each week it went on the road, so as to keep them settled and the routine in place. That may sound odd from the fan's viewpoint, but remember that players and coaches look at the same issue from different perspectives.
With all that in mind, Holgorsen's strategy is a smart one. And, in truth, it might be something that works in West Virginia's favor. WVU will be expecting and will quickly become used to those longer flights. Will opponents traveling to Morgantown, and doing so just once every other year, acclimate as quickly? It's hard to say, but there's no doubt that Holgorsen has his plan in place for his team.
As for the fan base, the viewpoint switches. Getting commercial flights to far-flung game locations isn't cheap or easy, and will almost certainly require two overnight stays. The anticipated effect is that West Virginia's vaunted road game presence will suffer greatly, and there's probably no fix for that. However, Holgorsen noted that the move to the Big 12 also brings scarcer ticket opportunities for fans of the road teams, so the days of Mountaineer fans taking over opposing stadiums (as they often did at Pitt, Cincinnati and other venues) were likely to end anyway.
"The days of being able to take 15-, 20,000 people to different venues are just -- those days don't exist in the Big 12 because everybody packs their stadium and everybody gives the opponent about 4,000 tickets," Holgorsen explained, likening it to the situation that exists at Mountaineer Field. "How many fans come into Morgantown, W. Va., from the opposing team? It's usually about 4,000 people because that's all the tickets that are available. So my suggestion to the people of West Virginia is is to make sure you come to every home game and then pick a road game and go travel once a year."
Again, solid advice. Those thoughts also serve to back up Holgorsen's wish – expressed last year to the consternation of some – to sell out every home game, not just those featuring "name" opponents. And again, while it might seem counter-intuitive, the lack of road game opportunities could serve to help home attendance. With only one road game (James Madison) withing driving distance, might West Virginia fans be more likely to attend more games at home?
It might be difficult to judge this year, as the excitement of a new league, a blowout bowl win and the promise of more offensive fireworks has WVU on the the verge of selling out its season tickets. Those factors are definitely helping the spike in ticket sales, but the difficulty in getting to the midwest for most fans is also in play. It's definitely something to watch in the coming years, but for now, Holgorsen's idea, just as his plans for his team's travel, seems to be a good one.