The Long Road to the 2019 Final Four: How Far Will Each NCAA Tournament Team Have to Travel?

We’ve heard it before: The Road to the Final Four is long and painful.  But exactly how long is it?  For some of the teams, it seems like they always get opening round games right down the road1.  For the rest of us, it seems like our team has to cross nine time zones to even get to the Sweet 16. Well, I did the work so you didn’t have to. Using some base assumptions, I plugged in the numbers to see who, exactly, has the longest way still to go.  The answer may surprise you.

Assumptions:

  1. During the NCAA tournament, the NCAA itself charters aircraft to bring teams to games. I assume that they generally use the closest reasonable airport. In major metro areas I tend to use the “major” airport, but I realize that Cincinnati might fly out of Lunken Field instead of Cincinnati2 International Airport, the numbers do not materially change.  I promise, I tested.  When I did this for last year’s Major League Baseball season, people got really mad about this. I re-ran the numbers and they changed by less than .01%, so settle down.
  2. Given that for under 350 miles teams are bused, this assumes the point to point distance (as the crow flies) rather than road distance on shorter journeys. This is done to maintain apples-to-apples comparisons.
  3. Play-in teams will NOT go home after Dayton, but proceed to the next stop on their journey.  For the rest of the venues, once they advance through their region, they will go home on Saturday or Sunday and fly on to the next region the following Wednesday or whatever.  So in this example, Purdue goes home after Hartford and after Louisville.
  4. Since this is mileage TO the Final Four, I don’t consider a trip home. That would be some different article that’s less interesting.

Okay, enough assumptions!

Results:

In total, all 68 teams would travel 302,698 miles (which is down 10% (33,714) miles from last year miles should they all decide to meet in Minneapolis and watch each other, and it would look like this:

The entire 2019 NCAA Tournament flight plan

Unfortunately for 64 of them, that’s not how it will work. Here are some individual statistics. The average First a look at the average distance traveled by seed:

Seed
Mileage
7
2878
1
2963
2
3097
3
3294
6
3333
15
3562
14
3892
10
4247
8
4807
4
4850
16
5099
9
5342
5
5388
12
5526
11
5680
13
7495

Longest overall journey to the Final Four: Saint Mary’s, with one of the longest straight-line trips from Oakland to Hartford, then returning only to potentially turn around to Louisville the following week. All of this plus the trip to Minneapolis brings the total travel of 10,766 miles to get to the Final Four. Here’s the map:

St. Mary’s has the longest path in the 2019 NCAA Tournament

Shortest overall journey to the Final Four: Cincinnati. Kansas has been dethroned! After two straight years of having the shortest journey, the Jayhawks fall to tenth shortest journey this year. The Bearcats start in Columbus, before potentially heading to Louisville prior to Minneapolis. This journey looks a lot less challenging than St. Mary’s:

Cincinnati has the shortest journey to the Final Four in 2019.

Longest journey to the Final Four for a 1 seed: Gonzaga, who at 4,192 miles, will travel almost two and a half times as far as the shortest traveling 1 seed (Duke).

Shortest journey to the Final Four for a 16 seed: Gardner-Webb, 1,777 miles. An AMSTS fan favorite this year after we went to Boiling Springs to catch a game, the Runnin’ Bulldogs got a nice path in their first NCAA berth. I still don’t see it happening…. or happenin’ as it may be.

Average journey by region: East (3,508), South (3,626), Midwest (4,277), West (6,282)

Seed with shortest average journey: Seven seed, with an average of 2,858 miles. Largely on the back of Cincinnati being the overall #1.

Seed with longest average journey: 13, averaging 6,329 miles. Thanks to Northeastern having to make a few cross country journeys

Here’s the raw data so you can see how your team stacks up…

Full results by team:

Team
Seed
Region
Home
1st Four
64/32
16/8
Final Four
Total travel
Cincinnati
7
South
CVG
CMH
SDF
MSP
994
Iowa State
6
Midwest
AMW
TUL
MCI
MSP
1425
Tennessee
2
South
TYS
CMH
SDF
MSP
1761
Gardner-Webb
16
South
CLT
CAE
SDF
MSP
1777
Duke
1
East
RDU
CAE
DCA
MSP
1810
VCU
8
East
RIC
CAE
DCA
MSP
1810
Bradley
15
East
PIA
DSM
DCA
MSP
2143
Maryland
6
East
DCA
JAX
DCA
MSP
2198
Purdue
3
South
LAF
BDL
SDF
MSP
2278
Kansas
4
Midwest
LWC
SLC
MCI
MSP
2280
Minnesota
10
East
MSP
DSM
DCA
MSP
2326
Virginia
1
South
CHO
CAE
SDF
MSP
2339
Iowa
10
South
CID
CMH
SDF
MSP
1993
Michigan State
2
East
LAN
DSM
DCA
MSP
2361
Mississippi
8
South
UOX
CAE
SDF
MSP
2389
North Carolina Central
16
East
RDU
DAY
CAE
DCA
MSP
2473
Louisville
7
East
SDF
DSM
DCA
MSP
2512
Villanova
6
South
PHL
BDL
SDF
MSP
2525
Kentucky
2
Midwest
LEX
JAX
MCI
MSP
2848
Old Dominion
14
South
ORF
BDL
SDF
MSP
2898
Colgate
15
South
SYR
CMH
SDF
MSP
2903
Wofford
7
Midwest
GSP
JAX
MCI
MSP
3018
Temple
11
East
PHL
DAY
JAX
DCA
MSP
3102
Belmont
11
East
BNA
DAY
JAX
DCA
MSP
3259
Houston
3
Midwest
HOU
TUL
MCI
MSP
3295
Yale
14
East
HVN
JAX
DCA
MSP
3389
Ohio State
11
Midwest
CMH
TUL
MCI
MSP
3398
Texas Tech
3
West
LBB
TUL
SNA
MSP
3506
North Carolina
1
Midwest
RDU
CMH
MCI
MSP
3512
Central Florida
9
East
MCO
CAE
DCA
MSP
3588
Georgia State
14
Midwest
ATL
TUL
MCI
MSP
3639
Oklahoma
9
South
OUN
CAE
SDF
MSP
3936
LSU
3
East
BTR
JAX
DCA
MSP
4095
New Mexico State
12
Midwest
LRU
SLC
MCI
MSP
4114
Abilene Christian
15
Midwest
ABI
JAX
MCI
MSP
4168
Gonzaga
1
West
GEG
SLC
SNA
MSP
4192
Iona
16
Midwest
HPN
CMH
MCI
MSP
4230
Kansas State
4
South
MHK
SJC
SDF
MSP
4373
Wisconsin
5
South
MSN
SJC
SDF
MSP
4524
Seton Hall
10
Midwest
EWR
JAX
MCI
MSP
4832
North Dakota State
16
East
FAR
DAY
CAE
DCA
MSP
4967
Nevada
7
West
RNO
DSM
SNA
MSP
4989
Montana
15
West
MSO
DSM
SNA
MSP
5035
Arizona State
11
West
PHX
DAY
TUL
SNA
MSP
5172
Saint Louis
13
East
STL
SJC
DCA
MSP
5317
Marquette
5
West
MKE
BDL
SNA
MSP
5333
Michigan
2
West
ARB
DSM
SNA
MSP
5416
Baylor
9
West
ACT
SLC
SNA
MSP
5433
Auburn
5
Midwest
CSG
SLC
MCI
MSP
5600
Northern Kentucky
14
West
CVG
TUL
SNA
MSP
5642
Murray State
12
West
PAH
BDL
SNA
MSP
5737
Utah State
8
Midwest
LGU
CMH
MCI
MSP
5822
Virginia Tech
4
East
ROA
SJC
DCA
MSP
5828
UC Irvine
13
South
SNA
SJC
SDF
MSP
5844
Liberty
12
East
LYH
SJC
DCA
MSP
5876
Mississippi State
5
East
KSTF
SJC
DCA
MSP
6094
Vermont
13
West
BTV
BDL
SNA
MSP
6305
Oregon
12
South
EUG
SJC
SDF
MSP
6376
Florida State
4
West
TLH
BDL
SNA
MSP
6918
Buffalo
6
West
BUF
TUL
SNA
MSP
7182
Prairie View A&M
16
West
IAH
DAY
SLC
SNA
MSP
7311
Florida
10
West
GNV
DSM
SNA
MSP
7488
Northeastern
13
Midwest
BOS
SLC
MCI
MSP
7847
St. John's
11
West
LGA
DAY
TUL
SNA
MSP
8383
Washington
9
Midwest
SEA
CMH
MCI
MSP
8410
Syracuse
8
West
SYR
SLC
SNA
MSP
9206
Fairleigh-Dickinson
16
West
EWR
DAY
SLC
SNA
MSP
9838
Saint Mary's
11
South
OAK
BDL
SDF
MSP
10766
  1. Duke has to go ALL THE WAY TO COLUMBIA THIS YEAR, THE HORROR
  2. Covington*