For the Fresno State Bulldogs, most of the road trips in the Mountain West Conference are difficult. There are few direct flights available, so they can end up going through San Francisco to get to Boise or Phoenix to get to Albuquerque or Denver just to get on a 21/2- to 3-hour bus ride to Wyoming.
“That’s an intense travel day,” said guard Marvelle Harris, who has made that trip to Laramie twice and will again on Feb. 24.
This time, though, it won’t be quite as taxing. Through a $150,000 pledge from a donor, Fresno State has set up charter flights on two trips for both its men’s and women’s basketball teams over the final three weeks of the season, which will help from a competitive standpoint on the front end and from an academic standpoint on the back end, and further enhance programs in an athletic department that is playing catch up to many of its conference rivals in a number of infrastructure areas.
“I think it’s a big deal,” Athletic Director Jim Bartko said. “With school and different TV schedules, it’s important to make sure we give our kids the right opportunity to get back and study, and make sure they have a good chance to win. We’re very fortunate to have had donors step up to pay for it. …
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“The NCAA landscape will change what a lot of schools are doing with that. Fresno has a pretty good airport. You can get to places easily. But if you’re missing a day and a half or if you’re getting up the next morning and busing …this is a positive.”
The Bulldogs women’s team today will charter to its game at Colorado State, flying directly into Fort Collins-Loveland Airport rather than Denver and taking a bus the rest of the way. The women’s team also is taking a charter to and from its regular-season finale March 3 at Air Force.
The men’s team will charter to and from its game Saturday at Utah State, flying directly into the Logan-Cache Airport on a trip that would otherwise require a flight into Salt Lake City that might connect in another city and a 90-plus minute bus ride. The second charter will be to the Bulldogs’ next game at Wyoming three days later, flying into and out of Laramie Regional Airport.
“I think it’s an unbelievable commitment by our administration to give us opportunities to get to difficult places to play,” men’s basketball coach Rodney Terry said.
“Travel is one of the hardest thing that everybody in the country has to do. They’re hard places to get to. Guys have a chance to get back and you have less class time missed, guys are able to get back and get to class and be in a routine as opposed to missing two full days of class.”
In the Mountain West Conference, most of the men’s basketball programs use a combination of commercial and charter flights as well as buses to get to or from games in and out of conference.
Utah State took a charter to and from a nonconference game at Mississippi State, then back from a game at San Diego State and back from a game at Wyoming. Boise State took a charter on four return flights, including Saturday following its game at Fresno State. Colorado State and Wyoming take a number of trips by charter every season. Nevada has in the past taken some charters, though all of its trips this season have been on commercial flights.
Fresno State has a tougher travel schedule than many of its conference rivals because of limited flight schedules, but it has relied on commercial flights and buses to get to and from games. The men’s team took a bus home immediately after last week’s game at UNLV — with the Bulldogs getting back in Fresno at 4:30 a.m.
But that is changing, with the use of a 30-seat Embraer 135 jet through a Los Angeles-based charter company.
For the women’s team, which on Wednesday is playing a Colorado State team tied for the lead in the Mountain West, the travel time to Fort Collins will be cut by more than half. The Bulldogs will end up missing just one day of classes where they might otherwise have missed two or even three, depending on available flights
“This way the kids get to go to school, we leave in the afternoon, we go there, we get a practice in and then we can come home right after the game,” coach Jaime White said. “It is a big deal. Your legs are fresher. You don’t have to go 2 hours (early) to the airport. It’s really nice, and I think it’s very competitive with some of the other schools.”
It will be a plus when Terry and White and their assistants are out on the road recruiting, as well. Charter travel is something Fresno State will look to continue.
“We have to keep examining where it fits in and how we can keep building on it, because we’d like to continue at least doing that plus add to it so they have more flexibility,” said Steve Robertello, senior associate athletic director for intercollegiate services.
White added that the charters can potentially be a selling point for the program.
“When you tell a parent or a kid that we charter, one, obviously you’re going to be in classes more often and that’s a commitment, and the other part of that is them recognizing a financial commitment to the sport and to our women’s basketball athletes,” White said. “I think that says a lot about our university.”