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Today's Tidbit... Football Travel Times In The Nineteen Aughts
With USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington joining the Big Ten and other changes in conference affiliations, teams located far from the geographic center of their new conferences face long travel distances and times. The anticipated travel has brought criticism, especially from coaches in sports that compete several days per week. Of course, those coaches already take their teams to Maui or the Bahamas for tournaments and play mid-week away games throughout the season. Likewise, baseball and track teams in northern climes head south or west four or five weekends each spring to compete in more favorable conditions.
However, since Football Archaeology is about football's old days, reviewing the travel itineraries and times faced by football teams competing about 120 years ago seemed appropriate. To do so, I picked a mixed bag of college teams and examined their travel arrangements for their longer trips.
During the first decade of the 20th Century, teams representing state flagship universities or others playing big-time football played most games at home and mostly faced lesser teams from the same or border states. They did not go far when they traveled. Wisconsin, for example, played only one game outside its home and border states until 1907. Other schools showed similar patterns, with variations driven by each state's geographic size and density of nearby colleges. Travel to distant locations was by train, often at slow speeds with multiple connections. Playing mid-season games in neutral, central city locations was relatively common because those cities provided larger spectator pools and train connections for both teams and their fans.
So, let's look at a few games and the visiting teams' travel arrangements. Trips of more than 200 miles often took a full day or more, requiring a night on the train or a hotel along the way.
November 17, 1900: Northwestern (7-2-3) @ Minnesota (408 miles)
Northwestern left home Friday morning, stopping two-thirds of the way to Minnesota in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at 6:00 PM Friday. The team held a light practice in Eau Claire's armory and left for Minneapolis early Saturday with plans to arrive at noon.
The Minnesota game was Northwestern's only contest played outside the Chicago metro area that season.
November 29, 1900: Minnesota (10-0-2) @ Nebraska (423 miles)
To play a season-ending Thanksgiving Day game, the Minnesota team and several hundred rooters from Minnesota traveled overnight. They arrived in Lincoln at noon on Wednesday, two hours later than scheduled. Along the way, the baggage car carrying the team's gear was switched off the train and did not arrive until later Wednesday night.
The trip to Lincoln was Minnesota's only game away from home that season.
October 22, 1904: Tennessee (3-5-1) @ Georgia Tech (314 miles)
Tennessee left Knoxville for Atlanta at 430 AM on the Southern Railroad for a game starting at 3:30 the following afternoon.
November 18, 1905: Wisconsin (8-2) @ Michigan (393 miles)
For a game that helped determine the Big Ten championship, Wisconsin left Madison at 3:45 PM on Thursday, passing through Chicago on Thursday night and arriving in Detroit on Friday. The team stayed in Detroit until early afternoon Saturday before taking an interurban line from Detroit to Ann Arbor that arrived 20 or 30 minutes before the game started.
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October-November 1905: Texas' Three-Game Trip
Rather than make a long trip to Nashville and return directly to Austin, Texas packed three games into one: a Saturday game at Vanderbilt, a Tuesday game at Arkansas, and a Friday game with Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.
October 28, 1905: @ Vanderbilt (861 miles) Texas left Thursday night for their Saturday game in a Pullman sleeper via the International and Great Northern Railroad to arrive in Nashville on Friday morning. They spent Friday in signal practice and resting for the game.
October 31, 1905: @ Arkansas (530 miles) Texas left Nashville and traveled to Springfield, Missouri, spending the day there before heading to Fayetteville for their Tuesday game.
November 3, 1905: Oklahoma @ Oklahoma City (219 miles) Texas left Fayetteville and traveled directly to Oklahoma City, arriving Wednesday night for their Friday game. Oklahoma arrived by train at 730 AM on Friday morning for the afternoon game. After playing on Friday, Texas was expected home on Sunday afternoon after the 388-mile trip from Oklahoma City.
October 12, 1907: Iowa State (6-2) @ Minnesota (215 miles)
ISU's games at Minnesota and Nebraska were their only contests outside of Iowa that year. The team left Friday afternoon with plans to arrive in Minneapolis on Saturday morning for their 300 PM game.
The examples above show that travel times for games over 200 miles from home generally required an overnight stay. It is also worth noting that travel times within the state or neighboring states took far longer than is needed today. So, college athletes in days gone by also faced travel challenges. The extent to which future travel in the new conferences contributes to academic and other challenges is to be determined. Still, today's athletes are not the first to face such challenges.
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