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For college football fans, this past weekend – Week 1 of the 2022 college football season – was a feast of games following months of pining to see favorite teams on TV or in person. We were rewarded by great and not-so-great matchups, but what mattered was that college football was back!
Moreover, last Friday, September 2, it was announced that the College Football Playoff would expand from the current four-team format to 12 teams by 2026 (and perhaps earlier!). The result should be more meaningful football games!!!
Week 2 of the 2022 season approaches; the players and coaches are preparing for the next game while fans plan the week around our favorite teams. Because this is FreightWaves (freight-focused), FreightWaves Classics will give an overview of the logistics process for a college football team that must go “on the road” to take on its opponent.
Planning and logistics of moving a football team
While you meet the logistical challenges of readying your abode for the next round of games (fresh batteries in the “clicker,” the right beverages and snacks in the correct quantities, etc.) take note of the logistics and coordination that go into making each game a reality. Whether it’s in the ACC, the Big 10, the Big XII, the SEC or one of the other college football conferences, the logistical process of getting ready for a game is complicated.
The process. The GOAT of college football – Coach Nick Saban of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide – is also the “king of process.” The process of college football’s supply chain is as complicated as the schemes teams put together for their offenses, defenses and special teams. A number of suppliers, transportation modes and stakeholders take part in the process.
Another great coach was Paul Brown. He is remembered primarily as a football coach and executive in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and National Football League (NFL). He was the co-founder and first coach of the Cleveland Browns (a team named after him), and later helped to found the Cincinnati Bengals. His teams won seven league championships in a professional coaching career that spanned 25 seasons.
But Brown began his coaching career at high schools before becoming the head football coach at Ohio State University, and he coached the Buckeyes to the university’s first national football championship in 1942. A relevant quote from Coach Brown regarding logistics is “Leave as little to chance as possible. Preparation is the key to success.”
Therefore, prior to a Saturday game, players on the “away” team pack their own gear to be transported. This generally takes place after practice on Wednesday (usually the last day pads are worn in practice before heading to the away game). Players place their personal equipment in travel bags, while the coaches pack their game-day clothes and sideline items. Meanwhile, the team’s training staff is responsible for packing hundreds of items, including the essential first aid, nutrition and safety supplies. In addition, there are jerseys, pants, cleats, helmets, pads, braces, clipboards, coolers, cups, computers, mobile devices, and the list goes on and on.
Johnathon Hankinson is Assistant Athletics Director for Equipment Services at San Jose State University (SJSU), which is a member of the Mountain West Conference. Hankinson joined SJSU in August 2018. He stated, “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.”
Blue Chip Moving & Storage is a Mayflower Moving Companies affiliate in Los Angeles. The company has hauled football equipment for UCLA and the University of Southern California for many years. Dennis Doody works for Blue Chip. He noted that it is usually the most trusted member of a coach’s staff who is responsible for ensuring that all sideline communications equipment is tested and packaged. This equipment includes headsets, radio equipment, play cards and white boards/tablets for sideline coaching sessions. Doody stated, “The most important piece of this puzzle is always the communications equipment. 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.”
At most universities, while the team, coaches and staff prepare for an away game, the band, officials and fans are working in a similar fashion to make the journey to the host university.
Trucking the equipment
After everything is packed, trusted members of the coaching and equipment staff load a dry van trailer (or trailers) for transit. According to Doody, “Everything has its spot. The staff know where every single item goes in the trailer.”
When everything is ready to go, the driver sets out for the location of the game. Doody commented, “We want the truck there in plenty of time so we have everything we need for practice the day before the game. When the equipment team arrives, everything must be there on-site so they can get everything organized and ready to play the game.” For cross-country games, it is common for the trucking company to send a team of drivers to ensure there are no delays and that all items arrive on time.
While the gear is en route (and depending on the distance from the college or university to the site of the game), the visiting team will travel on chartered buses and/or aircraft. School officials, doctors and perhaps privileged alumni will ride with the team. Bands, cheer staff and others typically travel in separate transportation.
Despite the planning and preparation, Hankinson added that “At every game someone forgets their leg or thigh pads, but we also need to be prepared to replace a helmet or set of shoulder pads too. 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.”
While some games take place at neutral sites or at bowls later in the season (in which case both teams need to follow the practices outlined in this article), most take place on a college or university campus.
Therefore, in the days leading up to the game, the home team’s equipment staff members have to do their normal work, as well as prepare for the arrival of the visiting team – and referees, fans and the opposing team’s band. Among their responsibilities may be cleaning the visitors’ locker room, gathering give-away items, preparing pre-game meals and snacks and any other requests for officials or the visiting team.
By the time the visiting team arrives, the equipment staff will have already unpacked the team’s equipment. The equipment staff and coaches will prepare the team’s sideline gear prior to the team’s practice, which normally occurs the day before the game. Among the equipment are nets for kickers and special teams, tables, exercise bikes, the medical tent and first aid equipment. This effort reduces last-minute issues on the day of the game. Coaches will often test and retest their communication equipment. Following practice the day before the game, a visiting team will return to their hotel. There will be team meetings and sub-groups (offense, defense and special teams and perhaps sub-groups of them as well), speeches, a team meal, etc. Then there will be the call for “lights out.” Quite often the home team will also stay in a different hotel the night before the game. This allows coaches and staff to keep eyes on the players and also eliminate potential distractions.
Prior to the game, players’ pads and equipment are set out in their temporary lockers. The all-important play cards, signs and whiteboards are placed along the sidelines to assist team communications during the game. Other equipment – stationary bikes, water and other fluids, fans (or heaters), misters, etc. are arrayed.
Brent Brennan, head coach of the SJSU Spartans, won the 2020 Lombardi Foundation national Coach of the Year award. He led SJSU to the Mountain West football championship in 2020; it was SJSU’s first football title of any kind since 1991.
Brennan has said that the complexity of a game day is handled through teamwork and communications. “The 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.”
Logistics are key
As outlined in this article, there is no doubt that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of moving pieces involved when a college football team plays an away game.
Moreover, because each setting is unique, each game poses unique logistical challenges. In addition, there are factors such as weather that can severely impact even the best planning and preparation.
As we await the games of Week 2 (and beyond!), remember that there is much more to an away game for a college football team than making sure that the players make it to the team bus on time.
Every college football game has a series of logistical issues that must be solved, and when everything works, the game takes center stage. Perhaps there are some lessons in this article that can help us prepare for the perfect tailgate or football-watching party.
And for all the fans who attend college football games to see the half-time shows, here are two photos of the West Chester University marching band’s trailer.