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For most of America, the excitement is building. Fall football camps have opened up and the season is right around the corner. As the players and coaches prepare for battle and the rest of us plan our seasons carefully around our favorite teams, I wanted to offer a glimpse into the thoughtful planning and logistics that goes into pulling off a college football game.
The college football game day supply chain is as robust as it is complicated. Many suppliers, transportation modes and stakeholders are involved. Like many transportation projects, there are some products and stakeholders that matter more than others. Let’s walk through the entire process from origin to destination and examine the steps required to pull off some of the greatest sporting events in the world.
In preparation for a Saturday game, the players on the away team must first pack their own items for safe transport beginning on Wednesday night after practice. Players place their own pads into travel bags, the coaches pack their own clothes, shoes and sideline items into their bags while the training staff gathers and packs the necessary first aid, nutrition and safety supplies.
“For the equipment team, it comes down to having a solid checklist and making sure that we have back ups for the back ups. We need to make sure we have multiples of any and all equipment a player or coach would need. If they need to bring it, they can forget it and it’s up to us to make sure we have the team covered in any situation, so they can focus on the game,” said Jonathon Hankinson, Football Equipment Manager at San Jose State University in California. “Every game someone forgets their leg or thigh pads, but we need to be prepared to replace a helmet or set of shoulder pads too, which we’ve had to do before. Even still, we regularly find that there is something that someone needs that we haven’t thought about before. In that case, we add it to the checklist for future games.”
The most trusted member of a coach’s staff will be responsible for making sure all sideline communications equipment is tested and packaged. This includes headsets, radio equipment, play cards and white boards/tablets for sideline coaching sessions. “The most important piece of this puzzle is always the communications equipment,” remarked Dennis Doody, of Blue Chip Moving & Storage, a Mayflower agent in Los Angeles. Blue Chip has been hauling the equipment for UCLA and USC for many years. “As technology has evolved, coaches have become really focused on having top-quality communications equipment. And they can’t trust the other schools, they don’t want anyone listening in. It’s the most important thing to them.”
While the team members are busy preparing themselves for their journey, the band, officials and fans are all doing the same things in preparation for making the trip into enemy territory.
Once everything is packed and ready, trusted members of the coaching and equipment staff load the trailer for transit. “Everything has its spot,” said Doody. “They know where every single item goes in the trailer. And it’s not like a normal move because the teams don’t fill up the whole thing. USC recently went with a 48-foot trailer over its traditional 53-foot trailer because it’s easier to get in and out of the Los Angeles Coliseum and they didn’t need the entire trailer length.”
When the head coach gives his blessing that everything is ready to go, the driver sets out on the drive. “We want the truck there in plenty of time so we have everything we need for practice the day before the game. When we arrive, we need everything there on-site so the equipment team can get everything organized and ready to play the game,” said Doody. For cross-country games like USC vs. Notre Dame, it’s common for Blue Chip to send a team for the drive to ensure there are no delays and all items arrive on time.
While the gear is enroute, the visiting team will travel on chartered buses and/or airplanes along with school officials, doctors and even some privileged alumni. If the visiting school chooses to send a pep band, that group will typically travel in its own vehicles unless the school’s budget can afford a bus.
In the days leading up to game day, the home team’s equipment staff carefully prepares for the arrival of the visiting team as well as the referees, fans and opposing band. This can include cleaning the locker room, gathering of give-away items to hand out at the gate, preparing pre-game meals and snacks as well as any other requests for officials or the visiting team.
When the visiting team arrives, the players’ items will have already been unpacked by the equipment staff and the coaches will begin preparing their sideline gear in advance of the team’s practice the day before the game. Kickers and special teams coaches set up their nets while the athletic trainers arrange their tables, exercise bikes and first aid equipment to reduce complexity on the day of the game. Coaches test and retest their communication equipment, anxiously awaiting kickoff. After practice the day before the game, the visiting team will be shuttled back to the hotel where they’ll attend meetings and speeches before shutting down early that night. The home team will also stay in a hotel the night before the game to keep closer tabs on the players and to eliminate potential distractions.
On game day, all of the players’ pads are arranged in their temporary lockers and the coaches’ outfits will be pressed and ready for game time. Play cards, signs and whiteboards are placed in the appropriate areas of the sidelines to assist with the orchestration of the team communications throughout the game. Game balls are placed near the middle of the field, in front of the team bench and plenty of towels accompany the balls in case of rain or humidity.
Brent Brennan, head coach of the San Jose State University Spartans, manages the complexity of game day through teamwork and communications. “Logistics of game day is a multi-level challenge. You have stadium, crowd, concessions, band, television and radio. Then you have the team, officials and the opposing team. Hundreds of people collaborate to pull off a Saturday college football game. With our team managing 100 people, players, coaches, trainers, in an ultra-competitive situation is an incredible job of communication and working together.”
While you’re cozying up to the early season match-ups over the next few weeks or cheering for your favorite squad during bowl season, take a minute to note the logistics and coordination that went into pulling each game off. It’s an impressive feat to say the least, and like most experiences in our modern world, logistics is at the core of these sacred games!