Logistics And Creativity Of College Football Travel Schedule Building
Ask any sports traveler and they’ll tell you that building out the schedule is just as fun as the travel itself. College football travel schedule building comes with specific challenges like a limited schedule and more spread out locations, but piecing it together is incredibly satisfying.
How is the Road to CFB sausage made? Where do these schedules come from? I’ll dive into all of that.
College Football Travel Schedule Building: A Blank Slate
With 131 FBS teams needing to play 13 games apiece, the complete college football schedule has over 1,700 games. That breaks down to about 65 games per week (oftentimes more with FCS matchups). Picking the one can be daunting at first, much less 12-13 times over.
My world exists in Google Sheets– Road to CFB and otherwise. I organize my work schedule on there, personal finances, vacation schedules, everything on Google Sheets. So naturally, that’s where I begin.
Excitement for the schedule peaks here. A completely blank slate with unlimited options. If you care to do the math on how many, let me know.
Where To Begin?
Another commonplace for sports travelers– football ones, in particular– is our unabashed love for FBSchedules.com. Kevin Kelly does God’s work at that site and I spend more time on there than I do on any other website.
You know which stadiums you’ve been to and have not. You know what driving range you’re comfortable with and not. Starting there whittles down 65 games per week to, say, 25 (maybe more, maybe less). So already you’re looking at a more manageable crop.
I operate with “Pillar Games.” Games I know I have to be at. Michigan at Ohio State in 2017 was one of those pillar games, so those get pencilled in and those weeks are filled. In 2021, Army vs. Air Force and Nebraska at Oklahoma were Pillar Games I was moving off of.
Similar to Pillar Games is the stadium wish list. In 2021, Arkansas was on that list, so I went to go find a handful of Arkansas games to choose from. With 6-7 home games a year, options are limited and you should work around those stadiums rather than trying to cram them in afterwards.
Even though most FBS stadiums are spread way out, there’s plenty of close-by places that work well hand-in-hand. Pairing these venues together can help with those stadiums where motivation might be lacking.
What I mean by that– and no offense to any of these places I’m going to list– is that driving four hours for a half-empty Joe Ailliet Stadium (Louisiana Tech) can be hard to convince yourself to do. However, in 2021, Louisiana Tech hosted Southern Miss on a Friday night and neighboring ULM hosted Arkansas State on a Saturday. Pairing those two together is a must.
The same goes for many of the MAC stadiums; does Western Michigan play on a Thursday and Notre Dame on a Saturday? Pair them together. Miami (OH) might host a game on a Wednesday, Cincinnati on a Friday, and Louisville on a Saturday. Make a weekend out of it.
These spots aren’t common, so I typically seek out these pairings early on. In 2021, I made a long weekend out of Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Florida State to open the season. Efficiency is necessary when trying to hit all 133 FBS stadiums.
Filling In The Gaps
After I pencil in Pillar Games, Wish List Stadiums, and nearby stadium pairings, there’s a handful of weeks left open. This is when I comb the entire field and start identifying games I want to write in.
My next “criteria” is big opponents visiting smaller schools. For example, Indiana played at Cincinnati in 2022. That kind of regional Power Five opponent visiting Cincinnati (we can argue their designation at the time) brought plenty of fans to the stadium and sometimes up the stakes. These types of games are awesome.
From there, I consider how often and how far I’m going in adjacent weeks. In 2018, I did Oklahoma State (4.5 hours), Tulane/LSU (7.5 hours), and Houston/Mississippi State (13 hours) in consecutive weeks. The travel was exhausting, so I followed it up with UTSA (40 minutes). Travel burnout is a very real thing.
If there’s any weekends left, I’ll look for new stadium opportunities and fun games.
College Football Travel Schedule Building: Beyond Draft 1
Everything above creates a schedule draft. Games move, opportunities open, and preferences change. After drafting up “Draft 1,” I’ll continue to tweak and adjust for months, sometimes even after the season starts. When it’s all said and done, I’ll have easily over 20 iterations of the same schedule. It’s why I prefer to share my schedule month-by-month and not all at once.
Adjustments come up during the season, too. For example, in 2021 I was going to cap the season with Louisiana Tech. However, on the Wednesday before game day, I was offered club seats to Kansas at TCU complete with free food and drink. Opportunities like that can’t be passed up and I had to take it.
Ask any sports traveler: their schedule is fluid. It’s an exciting puzzle to piece together and fit new venues and games into the cracks.
And, eventually, that blank sheet will look like this:
I wish it were as easy as it seems. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. I’ve frequently had games move times or dates and messed up the entire weekend circuit. Some weeks have a glut of good games and you have to choose one game over another. Other weeks are light on great games and you just have to pick one.
Because college football schedules aren’t built to cater to the needs of travel fanatics, there’s some weekends where no teams are in town. For example, Week 6 of the 2022 season saw Ohio State, Michigan, Akron, Kent State, and Toledo all on the road. Penn State is on a bye. I already had Cincinnati on the docket for earlier in the year and I’ve been to 25 Bowling Green games.
So, where do you turn? Luckily, I had a family vacation and opted for a BYE.
As much as I’d like Road to CFB be my full-time job, it’s not. Louisiana at Marshall on a Wednesday night was a terrific game and made a great first game in Huntington, but that required two PTO days.
Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.
However, the process is so much fun and so ever-changing, opening up the next season’s schedule for building is one of my favorite times of year.