College Football: Cardinals traveling in style
BY PAUL JOHNSON For Sun-Times Media November 22, 2012 4:08PM
Last season when North Central College’s football team traveled to southern California to face Redlands, the Cardinals traveled just like the rest of us, on a commercial flight.
“I was in between a couple that I’ve never met and it was kind of awkward, for all of us,” NCC senior Nick Kukuc joked.
But when the Cardinals rolled into southern California last week for their first-round Division III playoff game at Cal Lutheran, it was a totally different scenario.
NCAA teams which have to travel more than 500 miles for a postseason game travel in style, with a charter flight. Nobody handles their own bags. There’s no waiting. There are busses waiting on the tarmac when the plane arrives. The meals and hotels are taken care of. In other words, it’s the closest thing a Division III team can get to traveling to a major bowl game.
“The flights were fantastic,” North Central athletics director Jim Miller said. “It was really cool, but it’s tiring. But it’s what we want, and it was a great day for us Saturday.”
Once there, the Cardinals made themselves right at home, jumping out to a 34-point lead in a 41-21 win. The reward for the win? Well, how about another bowl game?
The flight is 10 minutes shorter this week, but the Cardinals will be doing it all again when they travel to Oregon to face Linfield in the second round Saturday.
“It’s great to know that we’ve done the routine once,” Kukuc said. “We took pride in the fact that we had to travel the furthest (in the nation) last week. Now this week, the same trip. We appreciate the opportunity to go on this trip again. It’s pretty neat.”
While the Cardinals are traveling in style for these unprecedented trips, it’s not without many things happening behind the scenes to pull it off. There are a total of 58 players that are allowed to dress on the trip. The NCAA reimburses the institution for those players plus 10 coaches and staff. Since the Cardinals rely on far more than 10 coaches and support staff every week, the college is on the hook for the rest of the travel expenses.
“No team can travel and play with only 68 players and coaches,” North Central coach John Thorne said.
With North Central traveling to Terre Haute, Ind., to win a men’s cross country national championship last Saturday as well, Miller had to make special arrangements to pull off the estimated extra $15,000 or so needed for each of these trips.
“How can you tell coaches that have helped all season that they can’t go?” Miller said. “It isn’t the right thing to do. Fortunately for us, President (Hal) Wilde was on the same page. We’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it right.”
Adding to the distractions this week for the Cardinals were myriad issues. First off, they had to travel back from California Sunday. Awaiting the team when they got back was final exams the past three days. Add in the Thanksgiving holiday and the need to travel to Oregon Friday and the team has been out of routine all week.
“They’re doing a great job, they really are,” Thorne said. “Now they’re done with finals, so hopefully they can catch up on some sleep. We’re doing a full day (Thursday) as if we were still in school, then we’re going to eat Thanksgiving dinner together here.”