Many college football teams, particularly those outside the so-called Big Five conferences, begin their seasons with two games on the road.
But there is the road, and then there is the road when you are Hawaii.
This year, the Rainbow Warriors will kick off their season a week before the rest of college football, with a game against California today in Sydney (although in Sydney, the game will be at noon Saturday). The next week has Hawaii playing Michigan — nine times zones away, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
But that is only the start. Hawaii will travel away from — and back to — Honolulu for at least seven games, racking up almost 50,000 miles of air travel.
“When you’re in the middle of the Pacific,” athletic director David Matlin said, “every trip is a long way.”
The Rainbow Warriors’ athletic schedules have few equals. Some NFL teams log less than half the total miles that Hawaii will. (The New York Giants’ figure this season will be closer to a quarter as large.) When next season’s NBA schedule was released this month, the Golden State Warriors’ Twitter account bragged that the team would travel a total distance of 54,436 miles. But that was for 41 road games, over about half a year. Hawaii has only seven in football.
“We get used to it, honestly,” said Ikaika Woolsey, the Rainbow Warriors’ starting quarterback.
Still, this year’s travel will be, in Matlin’s words, “longer than most.” It is not just the trip to Australia, although, at more than 5,000 miles each way, it is the longest trip of the season. (It will be longer still for Cal, which will travel nearly 15,000 miles round-trip.) But even Hawaii’s shortest trip, for an October game at San Jose State, in California, will cover nearly 2,500 miles each way.
Yet there is a bright spot, according to Matlin. “The beauty about this year’s travel for us — I can’t recall us having it in the recent past — is we’re only one plane to every trip,” he said.
That is, the team will be able to fly to an airport within driving distance of each of its opponents, which has not been the case in years when, for example, it played its Mountain West Conference rival Boise State on the road. For the Michigan game, Hawaii’s travel partner Hawaiian Airlines worked with it to charter a plane for the roughly 12-hour flight.
This is what passes for convenience at Hawaii.
Hawaii’s football team most likely travels the most of all the university’s varsity sports teams, the rest of which reside in the California-centric Big Sky Conference or the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and take only a few trips per season. Other programs also have an easy time persuading teams to come to them; in November, Hawaii’s men’s basketball team will host the runner-up of last season’s NCAA Tournament, North Carolina, and in December, it is scheduled to play Princeton and Seton Hall in-state in the Pearl Harbor Classic.
While in some years Hawaii football has had consecutive road games, this year the Mountain West scheduled Hawaii to alternate between home and away games — which is how Hawaii prefers it, Matlin said, as opposed to staying on the mainland and missing more than a week of classes. For the opening trip, which corresponds with the first days of instruction, the team had planned to bring along three academic tutors and get schoolwork ahead of time.
“Bless our professors,” said Nick Rolovich, Hawaii’s first-year head coach.
One other preparation for all the travel will go unseen: special pants.
“We’ve purchased some tights for traveling for the airplane that a bunch of guys will wear,” said Rolovich, who played at Hawaii and who was the offensive coordinator before his predecessor, Norm Chow, took over as head coach for the 2012 season. The tights, Rolovich said, are “sort of a lower-body compression sock on steroids.”
Woolsey, the senior quarterback, said he and other team leaders had also conveyed one hard-earned piece of wisdom to younger players: “Sleep in when you can.”
The program has retained the tradition set by June Jones, who was Rolovich’s coach, of practicing in the morning, which helps the team adjust better to West Coast night games. But beyond such common-sense adjustments, Rolovich’s attitude about the obstacles that playing for Hawaii presents is that they should not be considered obstacles.
“It’s too easy of an excuse to use,” he said. “It comes too easily out of people’s mouths. I don’t mention it to our guys. If they bring it up, there’s transfer paperwork downstairs if they don’t like it.”
Besides, Rolovich added, he tells prospects honestly what they are in for when he recruits them and warns them to make sure Hawaii is the right fit.
“Paradise,” Rolovich said, “is a miserable place to be unhappy.”