Fuel prices and airline woes are putting college sports teams in a headlock. Teams face extra surcharges for baggage and bankrupt airlines have schools scrambling for group rates on charter flights.
When the fall college sports season begins, thousands of athletes, trainers, and coaches will be on the road each week.
Danny Sanchez, the University of Wyoming's head soccer coach, said he had been planning to charter a jet for the first game of the year, at Western Michigan. But the price tag brought some sticker shock: It would have cost the school almost $50,000 nearly double the price from last year.
The Wyoming team is flying commercially — which means it now faces penalty fees on luggage.
Athletic departments across the country are holding their breath as airlines institute fees for extra baggage. After all, a hockey team with a few dozen bags of skates and pads can't exactly leave its gear at home.
At the University of Wyoming, Bill Sparks says that's just one reason why pressure is building on the school's $1.7-million travel budget.
Wyoming's teams also used to rely on Frontier Airlines for its group travel benefits. Since the company filed for bankruptcy, Wyoming has gone to other carriers. Each ticket now costs up to $200 more.
Even the sporting giants are vulnerable. Ohio State has the largest athletic budget in the county. But the Buckeye's Jen Bulla says that doesn't matter much these days, when charter flights are adding thousands of dollars in fuel surcharges for every trip.
Bulla says coaches are scrambling to trim expenses. Some have reduced their travel squads from 12 to 10. Others are eliminating road trips altogether.
Travel is not the only cost that's going up. The price of insurance, food and recruiting are crimping budgets, too. Schools say they won't know the full implication of the problem until the season's final whistles are blown.
Peter O'Dowd reports from Wyoming Public Radio.