The University of Wyoming football team had enough to worry about on the field this week as it prepared for its game at Hawaii at 10 tonight at Aloha Stadium.
The Rainbow Warriors (5-1 overall, 2-0 Mountain West) are in first place in the conference’s West Division, and feature one of the most prolific and productive offenses in the country.
The Cowboys (2-3, 0-1) have lost three of their past four games, and were lit up by equally potent offenses in Washington State, Missouri and Boise State for 115 points and 1,059 passing yards.
UW got in one less day of practice due to the 3,320-mile trip to Honolulu. It normally leaves for a Saturday road game on the mainland on Friday. It left Thursday due to the distance and to adjust to the four-hour time change.
That’s typical of most teams that have to play at Hawaii. While the weather, beaches and sites are paradise for most who visit, it is anything but paradise to get a football team there and back.
UW charters to all of its road games that require air travel, meaning it uses a charter company and has its own plane. It also trucks its equipment so it is there when the team arrives the day before a game.
But you can’t truck equipment across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.
After Tuesday’s practice, equipment like shoulder pads, uniforms, communication gear, etc., was loaded on a truck, which drove it to Salt Lake City for it to be flown to Honolulu. Normally, the truck would go to Denver, but Brent Vernon, UW’s assistant athletics director for football operations, said Denver Inter-national Airport was too busy due to the recent hurricane on the east coast.
Vernon said once the truck got to Salt Lake City, the equipment would be loaded onto an air cargo plane and flown directly to Honolulu.
Vernon and UW football equipment manager J.D. Jordan were scheduled to fly to Honolulu on Wednesday.
“Hopefully by the time we get there, all of our stuff should be at the stadium and we can start unloading it,” Vernon said.
If not, UW has some time before the game to figure out what to do.
As for getting the equipment back to Laramie, it will all be taken to the airport in Honolulu after the game, put on an air cargo flight and, if all goes well, will be back in Laramie by around 7 p.m. Monday.
Why not put the equipment on the flight the team is on?
That’s too much weight for the 737 airplane UW uses for its charter. However, Vernon said the team will try to fly home with helmets so they have those for Monday’s practice.
Going to and from Honolulu, UW stops in Los Angeles for fuel, which takes between 45 minutes and an hour.
UW chartered out of Cheyenne in leaving for Honolulu, but will arrive back in Laramie. Runway length and weight on the plane determine whether the team can charter in and out of Laramie or Cheyenne.
It takes two to three hours to fly to Los Angeles, and another six to seven to travel from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
Even though UW uses charters, don’t mistake that for a private plane with all the luxuries. Seating includes three seats on each side, just like any other 737.
UW normally flies directly back to Laramie after road games, and will on this trip – after its stop in Los Angeles for fuel. Depending on where the game is and the time, it gets home sometime Sunday morning – often in the middle of the night if the game was at night.
If all goes well, the team will land in Laramie about noon Sunday.
“It’s a long trip,” Vernon said dryly and somewhat sarcastically.
UW was scheduled to fly out at around noon Thursday and arrive in Honolulu at 5:30 p.m. local time. That is 9:30 p.m. Mountain Time due to the time change.
Vernon said once in Honolulu, players would bus to the team hotel, have dinner and get to bed as soon as possible because of the four-hour time difference.
Position meetings and a short practice at Aloha Stadium were on the schedule Friday. Vernon said after that, the team would get into its normal Friday night routine before a Saturday game.
But back to the time change.
Vernon said kickoff at 10 p.m. MT, which is 6 p.m. Hawaiian time, isn’t a big deal for the players. But what happens in the days after the game can be.
UW last played at Hawaii in 2014. Vernon was on the staff during that 38-28 loss for the Cowboys.
“I would say it was Wednesday (after the Hawaii game) until the kids were back into their routine and all that,” he said.
UW lost its next game that season, 27-20 at home to San Jose State in overtime. It goes back on the road next Saturday to play at Fresno State, which kicks off at 8:30 p.m. MT.
What about spending the week in California prior to the Fresno State game to avoid all of the back-and-forth travel?
That wasn’t an option because of cost and missed class time for the players. Also, teams are allowed to take 70 players on the road. Scout team players, needed to help simulate opponents’ offenses and defenses each week, don’t go. There wouldn’t be enough players to adequately hold practice.
“The theory is nice, but it wouldn’t have worked for us,” Vernon said.
Bill Sparks is UW’s senior associate athletics director for business operations. In other words, he handles the money.
Sparks said charter flights to and from games on the mainland cost UW between $80,000 and $90,000 per game.
To charter to Hawaii is just shy of $216,000.
When UW trucks its equipment, the cost is between $3,000 and $6,000 per game, depending on where the game is. Sparks said UW paid $4,500 for equipment to be trucked to and from its 2017 opener at Iowa.
Sparks said the estimate UW got to have its equipment flown to and from Hawaii was $52,000.
When all is said and done, Sparks said UW will spend $400,000 to $500,000 for this game.
Sparks said Hawaii provides a $175,000 subsidy to MW teams who make the trip. He said other MW schools don’t have to do the same when Hawaii makes the trip to their stadiums.
Schools that play at Hawaii have the option of scheduling a 13th regular-season game, which is normally a home game, to help offset costs of making the long and expensive trip. UW did not schedule a 13th game because it couldn’t find an opponent that worked for the dates it had open.
Sparks said UW budgets accordingly when it plays at Hawaii, which is once every four years. Sparks said that also is explained to UW’s Board of Trustees when they see travel expenses increase, as well as to external auditors the athletics department brings in every year.
“A lot of people – fans and others – when they see Hawaii on our schedule, they view it initially as a great opportunity to go there, like it is a vacation,” Sparks said. “It is not a vacation. We don’t get time, other than one extra afternoon. It is built in like our other road trips.
“We’re not getting several days in beautiful Hawaii, with all the sunshine and things to see and do. It is a business trip, like all of our other football trips, and it is a pretty grueling trip.”
Even if the players don’t have a lot of free time in Hawaii, it is still Hawaii. The Cowboys’ hotel is less than a football field’s length from the beach.
The high temperature in Hono-lulu today will be in the mid-80s.
The low will be in the mid-70s, with a 40 percent chance of evening rain showers.
Even though he redshirted in 2014, senior nose tackle Sidney Malauulu made the trip to Hawaii with the Cowboys the last time they played there.
“It is a lot hotter than we think it is. The humidity out there is crazy,” he said.
Junior defensive tackle Youhanna Ghaifan said he “wants to have a little fun” while in Hawaii.
“I will be 100 percent ready to play, and I know it is not a vacation, but I do want to see a couple of things,” he added.
Fifth-year UW coach Craig Bohl said the players will “maybe have two hours to walk around down there” in terms of free time.
“We’re going over there to win a football game,” he said. “If you get distracted, get to sightseeing and everything else, it won’t help you.
“It would be easy for me to say I don’t worry about it, but I worry about everything.”
Robert Gagliardi is the WyoSports senior editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @rpgagliardi.