Who Are the Biggest Losers in College Football’s Conference Realignments?

The Fans, Environment Take the Biggest Hit

This week’s sports news was filled with stories of major college football conferences jockeying for new teams while panic set in for conferences like the Big East that have been shedding teams faster than defectors fleeing the Soviet Union when the Berlin Wall fell.  TCU bolted on the Big East without playing a single game and were quickly followed by long-time members Syracuse, Pittsburgh and then last week West Virginia.

Apparently geography was not a factor in the mad dash to join new conferences  as some teams ended up looking like remote outposts of their new conference brethren.

Map of Big 12 Teams after WVU Joins

WVU is a good example as it ended up joining the Big 12 Conference which consists largely of teams from the Southwest region whose nearest team, Iowa State, is a distant 874 miles away from the WVU campus in Morgantown, WV.

Compare that with WVU’s nearest Big East foe Pittsburgh who is a short 80 miles up highway 79 and you’ll quickly see who’s going to suffer most by these realignments.   We took a look at what Mountaineer fans will be paying in travel costs to get to the nearest possible road game in the Big 12 conference versus the Big East using our new Cost2Drive iPhone app.

WVU to Nearest Away Game - Big East vs Big 12

Assuming you’re driving a sedan (in the above example a 2004 Inifiti G35) you can see that fans driving to away games will be forced to shell out 12 times as much for fuel to get the nearest away game for the Big 12 Conference at Iowa State compared to the annual Big East backyard brawl with Pitt.  If they choose to fly, the cheapest round trip flight is $354 which isn’t an option (or a necessity) for the Pitt game.

If you apply the $110 difference in gas costs and double it for a round trip Mountaineer fans will be paying an additional $220  to drive to the nearest road game when it joins the Big 12 Conference.  Apply this to 10,000 fans and you’re talking $2,200,000 per game from consumers in a period when high gas prices are already taking a big chunk of their wallets.  Assuming at least 5 away games each year and it amounts to over $10 million per team, and that’s not even  factoring in the environmental impact from the additional carbon footprint this will generate.

Perhaps all these conference realignments will end up creating a windfall for the travel industry, but I fear the expense may prove too much for the cash-strapped students who tend to be the most ardent college football fans.

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