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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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:
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:
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:
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:
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|
|North Carolina Central||16||East||RDU||DAY||CAE||DCA||MSP||2473|
|New Mexico State||12||Midwest||LRU||SLC||MCI||MSP||4114|
|North Dakota State||16||East||FAR||DAY||CAE||DCA||MSP||4967|
|Prairie View A&M||16||West||IAH||DAY||SLC||SNA||MSP||7311|