Yesterday, we looked at the 449-mile one-way trip that Gillette will make this year to play Evanston.
But that game is an outlier, certainly. It’s the longest. Not the average. What can one outlying game tell us about travel, overall, in Wyoming high school football?
Well, the Gillette-Evanston trip is a small piece of a much larger problem the state has faced the past few years: Travel is increasing.
To get a baseline for where travel in Wyoming stands, I looked at all the games scheduled by the WHSAA for the 2014 season, and broke down the travel by type (conference, nonconference, out-of-state) and by classification. (Here’s some boring fine print on calculation methods; skip to the next paragraph if you want: Only games scheduled by the WHSAA are counted here. The mileages here use the shortest distance proposed by Google Maps directions that do not involve county or dirt roads. Trips go “through the park” when possible, if shorter. Distances were calculated using city centers, not school addresses (hence why the Kelly Walsh-Natrona game goes in as “0 miles”). Burns’ games were calculated from Burns, not from alternate sites. Upton-Sundance games were calculated using the actual host site for home games and the closer of the two schools for road games.)
In short, Wyoming high school football teams are going to be putting in a lot of windshield time. Here are the one-way distances Wyoming squads will have this fall:
All games: Average 192.9 miles; median 178 miles
Conference games: Average 187.8 miles; median 178 miles
Nonconference games: Average 212.5 miles, median 200 miles
4A games: Average 212.8 miles, median 226 miles
3A games (games involving two 3A teams only): Average 196.3 miles, median 183.5 miles
2A games (games involving two 2A teams only): Average 207.3 miles, median 192.5 miles
1A 11-man games (games involving two 1A 11-man teams only): Average 179.4 miles, median 177.5 miles
1A six-man games: Average 190.1 miles, median 178 miles
Interclass games (in-state only): Average 114.1 miles, median 121 miles
Out-of-state games: Average 64.3 miles, median 67 miles
I also decided to take a look at outliers. I counted the number of trips that were more than 325 miles (which is five hours at 65 mph with no stops). In all, 29 games involve trips of 325 miles or more:
Gillette at Evanston (449), Evanston at Sheridan (446), Lyman at Big Horn (408), Star Valley at Douglas (397), Pine Bluffs at Tongue River (389), Hulett at Dubois (385), Sheridan at Rock Springs (370), Big Piney at Wheatland (369), Lovell at Mountain View (361), Pinedale at Wright (361), Evanston at Cheyenne South (357), Cheyenne East at Evanston (357), Evanston at Cheyenne Central (357), Mountain View at Burns (355), Lyman at Lovell (355), Burns at Big Horn (354), Green River at Torrington (353), Rock Springs at Gillette (349), Cokeville at Rocky Mountain (346), Burns at Thermopolis (339), Burlington at Cokeville (337), Cokeville at Riverside (335), Lovell at Kemmerer (332), Wheatland at Lyman (329), Greybull at Mountain View (329), Rocky Mountain at Saratoga (328), Evanston at Natrona (326), Evanston at Kelly Walsh (326), Southeast at Tongue River (325).
I then looked at the number of trips that were fewer than 65 miles (one hour at 65 mph, no stops, duh). In all, 28 games involve trips of 65 miles or fewer:
Cheyenne South at Cheyenne Central (0), Cheyenne East at Cheyenne South (0), Cheyenne East at Cheyenne Central (0), Natrona at Kelly Walsh (0), Mountain View at Lyman (6), Greybull at Riverside (8), Wind River at Wyoming Indian (17), Burns at Pine Bluffs (19), Upton-Sundance at Moorcroft (20), Riverside at Burlington (22), Lingle at Southeast (23), Cody at Powell (24), Riverton at Lander (25), Jackson at Teton, Idaho (33), Midwest at Kaycee (33), Greybull at Lovell (33), Shoshoni at Wind River (35), Big Piney at Pinedale (37), Hanna at Rock River (39), Burlington at Rocky Mountain (41), Lyman at Kemmerer (43), Kemmerer at Mountain View (44), Rocky Mountain at Riverside (46), Wyoming Indian at Shoshoni (47), Lingle at Lusk (47), Cheyenne Central at Laramie (51), Laramie at Cheyenne East (51); Cheyenne South at Laramie (51).
In case you didn’t see it: This season, Wyoming high school football teams will have more trips of at least 325 miles than trips of 65 miles or fewer.
Something is wrong with this picture. But has it always been this way?
To see if Wyoming’s high school football travel has always been this brutal, I took a look at 1994, which was 20 years ago this fall. Remember that in 1994, the landscape of Wyoming football was somewhat different — the state still had five classifications, but nine-man football only had six schools (and was in its final year of WHSAA sanctioning); Class 4A had 10 schools, just like now, but they were separated into two conferences; the state had 58 football programs, six fewer than today; Class 1A 11-man had four conferences instead of two; schools made their own schedules; not every school filled out a full schedule, so some schools had to supplement by playing JV or sophomore teams or out-of-state programs.
To be fair to the WHSAA, I removed the games schools scheduled against sub-varsity opponents. Then, just like I did for 2014, I calculated the distance for each game. Here’s what I found about the 1994 season:
All games: Average 144.7 miles; median 137 miles
Conference games: Average 135.4 miles; median 126 miles
Nonconference games: Average 155.7 miles, median 148 miles
4A games: Average 187.5 miles, median 178 miles
3A games (games involving two 3A teams only): Average 163.6 miles, median 165 miles
2A games (games involving two 2A teams only): Average 144.5 miles, median 135.5 miles
1A 11-man games (games involving two 1A 11-man teams only): Average 115.7 miles, median 98 miles
1A nine-man games (games involving two 1A nine-man teams only): Average 158.7 miles, median 155 miles
Interclass games (in-state only): Average 153.8 miles, median 161 miles
Out-of-state games: Average 121.2 miles, median 82 miles
The difference here is clear. The average one-way distance for a typical football game is almost 50 miles longer in 2014 than it was in 1994. And the average one-way distance for a conference game is more than 50 miles further than it was 20 years ago.
Throw in those sub-varsity games (which averaged only 75 miles in 1994), and the average road trip for a football game in 1994 was 138.9 miles — a full 54 miles shorter than the average game in 2014.
The outliers were fewer, as well. Unlike the 29 games of 325 miles or more we’ll see this fall, 1994 only had six games that had one-way trips of 325 miles or more — and two of them were neutral-site games: Regina Riffel, Saskatchewan, at Sheridan (528 miles); Gillette at Green River (364); Evanston at Cheyenne East (357); Hulett at Wyoming Indian (337); Kemmerer vs. Lovell (at Riverton, 332 for both); Kelly Walsh vs. Evanston (at Rawlins, 326 total for both).
On the flipside, 42 games in 1994 involved one-way trips of 65 miles or fewer — 15 more games than the 27 short-trip games scheduled for 2014. Throw in eight sub-varsity games that were within 65 miles, and Wyoming had 50 hour-or-less games in 1994.
(Keep in mind that only 208 regular-season varsity-versus-varsity games were scheduled in 1994; 2014 has 255.)
This shift is an economic problem, too: 54 more miles per game one way is 108 more miles per game. Over 255 games — the length of the WHSAA-scheduled regular season this year — and that’s 27,540 more miles that Wyoming high school football teams will travel this fall than they did 20 years ago.
The American School Bus Council assumes that a large-passenger diesel school bus gets about 7 miles per gallon. The average price of a gallon of diesel in Wyoming on July 21 was $3.897. That’s $15,331.91 more in gasoline that Wyoming schools will have to shell out this year than they did in 1994 to cover those 108 additional miles per trip — not to mention any hourly wage for bus drivers, increased wear on tires and bus equipment, and so on.
But why? Why are football teams going 54 more miles per game, one way, than they did 20 years ago? That’s what we’ll examine next.