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:

SeedMileage
72878
12963
23097
33294
63333
153562
143892
104247
84807
44850
165099
95342
55388
125526
115680
137495

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:

TeamSeedRegionHome1st Four64/3216/8Final FourTotal travel
Cincinnati7SouthCVGCMHSDFMSP994
Iowa State6MidwestAMWTULMCIMSP1425
Tennessee2SouthTYSCMHSDFMSP1761
Gardner-Webb16SouthCLTCAESDFMSP1777
Duke1EastRDUCAEDCAMSP1810
VCU8EastRICCAEDCAMSP1810
Bradley15EastPIADSMDCAMSP2143
Maryland6EastDCAJAXDCAMSP2198
Purdue3SouthLAFBDLSDFMSP2278
Kansas4MidwestLWCSLCMCIMSP2280
Minnesota10EastMSPDSMDCAMSP2326
Virginia1SouthCHOCAESDFMSP2339
Iowa10SouthCIDCMHSDFMSP1993
Michigan State2EastLANDSMDCAMSP2361
Mississippi8SouthUOXCAESDFMSP2389
North Carolina Central16EastRDUDAYCAEDCAMSP2473
Louisville7EastSDFDSMDCAMSP2512
Villanova6SouthPHLBDLSDFMSP2525
Kentucky2MidwestLEXJAXMCIMSP2848
Old Dominion14SouthORFBDLSDFMSP2898
Colgate15SouthSYRCMHSDFMSP2903
Wofford7MidwestGSPJAXMCIMSP3018
Temple11EastPHLDAYJAXDCAMSP3102
Belmont11EastBNADAYJAXDCAMSP3259
Houston3MidwestHOUTULMCIMSP3295
Yale14EastHVNJAXDCAMSP3389
Ohio State11MidwestCMHTULMCIMSP3398
Texas Tech3WestLBBTULSNAMSP3506
North Carolina1MidwestRDUCMHMCIMSP3512
Central Florida9EastMCOCAEDCAMSP3588
Georgia State14MidwestATLTULMCIMSP3639
Oklahoma9SouthOUNCAESDFMSP3936
LSU3EastBTRJAXDCAMSP4095
New Mexico State12MidwestLRUSLCMCIMSP4114
Abilene Christian15MidwestABIJAXMCIMSP4168
Gonzaga1WestGEGSLCSNAMSP4192
Iona16MidwestHPNCMHMCIMSP4230
Kansas State4SouthMHKSJCSDFMSP4373
Wisconsin5SouthMSNSJCSDFMSP4524
Seton Hall10MidwestEWRJAXMCIMSP4832
North Dakota State16EastFARDAYCAEDCAMSP4967
Nevada7WestRNODSMSNAMSP4989
Montana15WestMSODSMSNAMSP5035
Arizona State11WestPHXDAYTULSNAMSP5172
Saint Louis13EastSTLSJCDCAMSP5317
Marquette5WestMKEBDLSNAMSP5333
Michigan2WestARBDSMSNAMSP5416
Baylor9WestACTSLCSNAMSP5433
Auburn5MidwestCSGSLCMCIMSP5600
Northern Kentucky14WestCVGTULSNAMSP5642
Murray State12WestPAHBDLSNAMSP5737
Utah State8MidwestLGUCMHMCIMSP5822
Virginia Tech4EastROASJCDCAMSP5828
UC Irvine13SouthSNASJCSDFMSP5844
Liberty12EastLYHSJCDCAMSP5876
Mississippi State5EastKSTFSJCDCAMSP6094
Vermont13WestBTVBDLSNAMSP6305
Oregon12SouthEUGSJCSDFMSP6376
Florida State4WestTLHBDLSNAMSP6918
Buffalo6WestBUFTULSNAMSP7182
Prairie View A&M16WestIAHDAYSLCSNAMSP7311
Florida10WestGNVDSMSNAMSP7488
Northeastern13MidwestBOSSLCMCIMSP7847
St. John's11WestLGADAYTULSNAMSP8383
Washington9MidwestSEACMHMCIMSP8410
Syracuse8WestSYRSLCSNAMSP9206
Fairleigh-Dickinson16WestEWRDAYSLCSNAMSP9838
Saint Mary's11SouthOAKBDLSDFMSP10766
  1. Duke has to go ALL THE WAY TO COLUMBIA THIS YEAR, THE HORROR
  2. Covington*