The New Sun Belt: See if You Can Get There From Here – From the Bird’s Nest
The Sun Belt officially announced today the addition of Georgia Southern as the newest member of the Sun Belt Conference.
They are in Statesboro, Georgia.
But there are more on the way.
Appalachian State will be headed to the 'Belt as well. They are in Boone, NC
Both of these schools have rich football tradition at the FCS level. Some of their fans think they will come in and immediately compete for a championship. That remains to be seen. Neither is going to improve the basketball fortunes of the Sun Belt to a great level. Georgia Southern has had some good baseball and App. State isn't terrible either.
But, if you're the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, good luck getting there.
Statesboro (29.399) is located roughly between Atlanta and Jacksonville. The closest airport is Savannah, but you have to take three flights if your flying there commercially. The best bet for the Cajuns' team is just go ahead and go to Jacksonville. From there, it'll be a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to get to Statesboro.
So, if you're the Cajuns' basketball team you take a flight to Atlanta and then get on the bus. That'll be shorter than waiting an hour, flying to Jacksonville and then busing. Atlanta is a little over three hours away. That makes your actual travel time about five hours. But add getting to the airport two hours early and then spend another hour getting bags and getting everyone to the bus and now it's an eight hour day. But if you're the Cajuns' baseball team, you'll add a couple of hours. It'll be tough to get the travel party of 35 on a commuter jet. So that means busing to New Orleans. That makes it a ten hour day. And, then it's time for practice. No bueno. Football, even with a charter, probably does something similar.
Meanwhile, Boone NC (17,189), the home of Appalachian State, is a tad easier. You can fly from Lafayette to Tri-Cities and, with a decent layover, get there in about four hours then bus and hour and a half to Boone. That's about eight hours, counting airport time. It is not, however, a cheap ticket (about $465.00 purchased in advance.) If it's baseball, you bus to New Orleans, take a non-stop to Charlotte and then bus two hours. If you're lucky you can get that ticket for under $450. But you better buy well in advance. With the extra airport time, travel for baseball takes nine hours. Football can fly into Charlotte and bus two hours.
But Boone (elevation 3,333 feet) is the highest elevation for a city its size east of the Mississippi River. They average about 35-40 inches of snow per year. During the winter, you might get in and might not get out. Or, not even get there as scheduled.
The bottom line is, neither of these places is easy to get to if you're coming from the Sun Belt Western Division. And, it's not very cheap to fly to either place.
But wait!! There's more where that came from.
Expect another announcement, probably next month, welcoming New Mexico State and (shudder) Idaho to the Sun Belt for football only. That means teams will only have to make one trip every other year. And, New Mexico State really isn't a bad trip for a charter. You fly directly to El Paso (about 2.5 hours) and then bus 50 minutes to Las Cruces. Chances are you'll stay in El Paso. After the game, you bus back to the airport and go home. Not terrible at all. If you're a fan and want to go, it'll take you longer because of a layover.
Then there's Idaho.
Just shoot me now.
Even making the trip every other year is going to be a chore. In past visits, the Cajuns have flown into Lewiston and bused an hour up the mountain. But there was a time that airport wasn't available and there was a 2.5 hour bus ride to and from Spokane involved.
In other seasons making that trip, it was necessary to stop and refuel. Now, going up there is a pain in the posterior. But, it's coming home that's really the chore. Let's say the Vandals play a home game at 2pm. Game lasts until 5:30 or so. Then you take an hour to get everyone ready to leave. Then it's an hour down the mountain to Lewiston. Then it's an hour to get through security, then it's five hours to get back to Lafayette, counting the refuel.
Oh, did I say you have to add two hours because of the time zone change?
Let's do the math: You get home, if everything goes well, at 3:30 am. And, that's an AFTERNOON game. And, God forbid you should have to go to Spokane.
So, while the league will spout hearts and flowers over the new additions to the league, reality is travel expenses are going to go way up because of cost of flights (Nashville, DFW and Miami were not really expensive tickets.)
That's if you can get there from here.