Those datelines you see on this site's posts aren't just a collection of random cities we like, or an indication where we are on our fantasy trip in our dreams, or where the magic teevee is taking us that evening. The city in all-caps is actually where we are
, this is not done from home. Getting to over 100 Division I college basketball games every season requires extensive and sophisticated planning, and it's something that improves every year. And it's all done ahead of time, before the season even begins.
It all starts in August and September, when school schedules are quietly released on athletic department websites. Nearly as soon as they're posted, the games are fed into the Basketball State database using a program I wrote called Schedulr, one that allows me to enter a team's 30-or-so game slate in three or four minutes using simple shorthand. If I'm on Missouri State's schedule entry page, and the Bears are playing Drake on the road on Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. Central, I enter this in the text box:
12/31 3 -drke
Easy peasy. I don't do this to beat all the other websites in a game of competitive oneupsmanship, I do it because I need to compile the info ASAP.
Finally, sometime in early October, all but a few straggler schools are in the database, and the maps are ready. All games are plotted using the latitude and longitude of the home or neutral-site arena, and each day's map ends up looking something like this:
Each regular season is broken down into 12 to 14 trips. I try to go into every area of high team concentration (Upper Midwest, Mid-South, Deep South, BosWash Megalopolis, etc.) at least twice a year to make sure I see most of the teams there. I try to build the trips so that I see the "hype" preseason teams as many times as possible, and it always seems to end up that I catch the surprise squads. There's always one California excursion every season, and I attempt to alternate between North and South in alternate years.
Trips are usually about five to nine days long, and each has a "home base." That's the city I fly into, rent a car in, and return to once the segment is complete. I only fly on Fridays, Sundays or Tuesdays, because those are the days when there usually aren't a lot of games. The way the games are mapped out doesn't allow everything to go perfectly to plan, though.
When I'm planning a trip, I try to find the perfect combination of fly-in date, a good number of games to choose from over the following week, and the least number of miles to drive. Around 300 miles (four hours) is a good maximum between games, because I have to sleep six hours, spend four hours or so writing, talk two hours on the phone, watch two or three other basketball games on the Slingbox, and still find a few hours to eat, read, and answer e-mail too. Those 21 hours between games fill up quickly.
Take this trip from early January:
Mon Jan 5: Fly DAL-BNA; NASHVILLE: Florida Gulf Coast @ Belmont
Tue Jan 6: day off
(drive 246 mi.)
Wed Jan 7: ATLANTA: Northeastern @ Georgia State
(drive 147 mi.)
Thu Jan 8: BIRMINGHAM: Furman @ Samford
Fri Jan 9: day off
(drive 122 mi.)
Sat Jan 10: CLINTON, SC: Winthrop @ Presbyterian
Sun Jan 11: day off
(drive 168 mi.)
Mon Jan 12: BOONE, NC: Davidson @ Appalachian State
(drive 334 mi.)
Tue Jan 13: Fly BNA-CLE
That's a pretty well-planned week, no? There's five games, two days off, and just over 1,000 miles of total driving. Here's an example of a poorly-slapped together trip from the 2007-08 season.
(drive 278 mi.)
Fri Nov 23: PHILADELPHIA: Philly Classic (Drexel, Howard, Loyola (Md.), Navy, Penn, Robert Morris, Seton Hall, Virginia) [4 games]
Sat Nov 24: PHILADELPHIA : Philly Classic [4 games]
(drive 79 mi.)
Sun Nov 25: EASTON, PA: Central Connecticut State at Lafayette
(drive 541 mi.)
Mon Nov 26: BOONE, NC: Davidson at Appalachian State
(drive 86 mi.)
Tue Nov 27: WINSTON-SALEM, NC: Fresno State at Winston-Salem State
(drive 263 mi.)
Wed Nov 28: NORFOLK, VA: Georgetown at Old Dominion
(drive 349 mi.)
Thu Nov 29: BOONE, NC: Wichita State at Appalachian State
(drive 117 mi.)
Fri Nov 30: day off
Sat Dec 1: CHARLOTTE, NC: Duke vs. Davidson @ Charlotte
(drive 816 mi.)
I'm sure you can see what's wrong with this trip. Wrong base, too many miles (over 2,500!) and only one gasp for air. I remember spending that Friday off in a catatonic state, never wanting to see another road or basketball ever again. And it was still the beginning of the season. Season 3, when I only posted 70 items on this site, was one of the worst-planned tours in rock history, with regular 600-mile overnight drives. This is supposed to be fun.
So scheduling keeps getting more efficient and less daring, and with 83 attended games in the regular season for the second straight year, it turned out pretty good this time around.
Next time on TMM D.I.Y., we'll look at the next step of putting this thing together: budgeting and purchasing travel. Later on, we'll discuss packing, food, and truck stops. Got a question, something you want clarified? Use The Formâ„¢
, and I just might append it with a response here.