Bracketography: The Road to Final Four Sure Is Long for NCAA "Student Athletes"

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterMarch 27, 2012

Just four teams remain on the long and winding road to the Final Four. Let's examine exactly how long that road has been.

This college basketball season is 144 days long. In that time, the four teams in the Final Four—Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State and Louisville—will have combined to travel close to 70,000 miles. 

That averages out to nearly 120 miles of travel per team per day, for almost five months a year.

I hope the players get to keep their frequent flier miles and hotel rewards points. 


The Student-Athlete Conundrum

Travel is part of the culture of college basketball. Teams are rarely home for more than a few days at a time—especially during conference play—and players must always figure out a way to balance the rigors of the college basketball season with staying up on class, assignments and grades. 

Sure, schools employ academic support staff to help these athletes also serve as students, but it's extremely difficult to expect young adults to be able to balance everything. It's a testament to the players that more basketball players don't completely fizzle out. 


The Road to the Final Four

Of the four remaining schools in the NCAA Tournament, Louisville actually has the shortest trek—by driving miles—than any other school. The Cardinals have to travel just over 700 miles from Louisville to New Orleans, roughly 40 miles more than Kentucky will travel from Lexington. 

Kansas, which had not traveled farther than 290 miles from Lawrence in the first two weeks of the tournament, must travel 872 miles to New Orleans, which for Jayhawks fans who have been spoiled with nearly no travel so far, must feel like a trip to the moon.

Ohio State, nearly 915 miles from New Orleans, must travel the farthest of any Final Four team.

Still, with no team traveling more than 1,000 miles to get to the Final Four, it's a relatively easy trip for fans of every team. Good job, NCAA!

Well, sort of. The NCAA can stop pretending anyone is a "student athlete" while participating in the NCAA tournament.

The bigger the NCAA field gets and the more rounds they add to the tournament, the more teams resemble barnstorming basketball brands and the less they resemble student-anythings. 

I suppose there is ample time to study on all those long trips.



The Winding Road of the NCAA Tournament

While Louisville has the shortest trek to the Final Four, the Cardinals will have traveled nearly 8,800 miles over the entire three weeks of the tournament, an astronomical amount of travel that includes trips to and from Portland, Oregon and Phoenix, Arizona.

Ohio Sate had to travel just under 2,900 miles to get to the Final Four—nearly the equivalent of traversing the country one way—split up over the last three weekends.

Kansas and Kentucky have been very fortunate during the tournament, with Kansas traveling just under 1,900 miles to get to the Final Four and Kentucky traveling slightly more than 1,650 miles to reach New Orleans.

To put that in perspective, Kentucky has less overall travel in the NCAA tournament than nine schools had for just one trip this tournament. Louisville had to travel more than Kentucky's entire tournament itinerary in both trips before the trek the Final Four.


The Long(er), Winding(er) Road of the Regular Season

Click on the links below to see a map of each team's respective travel during the season.

• Louisville started the season ridiculously close to home, traveling 376 miles while playing just two games away from the KFC Yum! Center in November and December. 

The Big East season caught up with the Cardinals, as regular trips to the Northeast had them log more than 10,300 miles in 2012. Add in the ridiculous 8,783 miles for the NCAA tournament, and Louisville traveled somewhere in the neighborhood of 19,473 miles this season. In 144 days.

• Of the four remaining teams, Ohio State has the shortest road this season. The Buckeyes traveled 2,900 miles before the turn of the new year, compared to 7,641 (give or take) in 2012. Add in the 2,872 miles in the NCAA tournament, and Ohio State has traveled just north of 13,400 miles this season. Sadly, that doesn't seem so bad.

• Kentucky didn't leave home much to start the season, but two trips to the Northeast added up to 3,429 miles in pre-January travel. In 2012, the Wildcats moved around quite a bit in the vast SEC, logging nearly 9,100 miles. Add in the 1,658 tournament miles, and Kentucky has traveled just under 14,200 miles this season. 

• Kansas is in a unique situation. While the other three teams mostly stayed close to home to start the season, Kansas went everywhere. The Jayhawks logged an estimated 13,962 miles in late 2011. (Note: it was impossible to calculate driving miles to Maui, so I calculated the drive to LAX and added flight miles from LAX to Maui. It's inexact, but it's close.)

In 2012, Kansas cut travel almost in half, but still logged 7,674 miles in the Big 12 before starting the NCAA tournament. Even with the relatively short 1,866 miles in the tournament, Kansas has still traveled an insane 23,500 miles this year.

Per road miles (flights certainly cut out some miles that roads cannot), Kansas traveled an average of 162 miles per day this season. I hope they brought a bag of backup laptop batteries.


The End of the Road

When starting this research, the hypothesis was that teams with the shortest amount of NCAA travel would have the best chance to get to the Final Four, taking into account easier trips for the team and fans as factors.

That hypothesis was half right, as Kentucky (first) and Kansas (fourth) had two of the shortest potential trips to New Orleans. Duke (second) and Western Kentucky (third) combined to log the four shortest possible trips. 

Ohio State had the 14th-shortest possible trip of the tournament participants, two behind the Syracuse team they beat to get to the Final Four, severely hurting the hypothesis. 

Louisville blew it out of the water, as the Cardinals had the 58th-longest road through the NCAA tournament to get to the Final Four, the longest distance for a top-four seed by more than 2,500 miles. 

Still, if you factor in just how far the Final Four teams had to travel since November 11, 2011, when the season began, it certainly hasn't been a short trip for any of them.

Just think, next week they can all get back to being students, not athletes for a while. At least I assume that's what the NCAA marketing campaign will tell us.

(Maps created with Google maps.)


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