Nine months. That’s how long ago the UAB Blazer football team started ordering passports, just in case. As it turns out, the team’s success during its first season back after it was cut for two years led it to the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau. The game is December 22.
But the logistics of getting some 125 players, 40 staffers, and 50 band members to the Bahamas are formidable.
Start with a shipping container, all those passports, two charter planes, and some lessons from teams that have gone to the Bahamas Bowl before.
“We’re in a better place than some previous teams,” says UAB athletic director Mark Ingram. “For them, it was a scramble drill.”
Schools that played in past Bahamas Bowls ran into issues with transportation, customs, passports, and other hurdles, but they’ve since shared their not-to-do lists with UAB. Ordering passports well in advance, as Conference USA recommends, helped too. Ingram says they’re just waiting for a few more to arrive. “That’s one thing we’re not stressed over.”
But that doesn’t mean Blazer staff can relax in the sun with fruity rum drinks.
Freight, Weight, and Practice Bare Necessities
A shipping container is soon to arrive at the football practice facility. The team will load it with equipment before it’s shipped by road, rail, and sea a week before the game. But players still need to practice. That means they’ll send over things like radio headsets, while gear like helmets and pads will ride on the two planes with the players, staffers, family members, and some band members. Which presents its own potential problems:
“There’s a weight issue,” says Ingram. The Boeing 747s – which typically cost upwards of $100,000 to charter to the Bahamas — can seat hundreds, but that number decreases when some players bend scales at 300 pounds and when heavy equipment eats up space.
“Drums are heavy, and they’re bulky,” Ingram says. Plus, the team is heading down on December 18, returning Dec. 22. So it’s not just larger-than-normal humans, or larger-than-normal space needs for instruments. “With four nights and five days, clothes and gear, we’ve also got larger-than-normal suitcases.”
A Package and a Third Plane
The UAB National Alumni Society also chartered a plane — a 160-seat Boeing 737-800. The $950 travel package includes airfare, transportation with police escorts (also helps Americans avoid driving on the left side of narrow, congested roads). They’ll also get into two receptions and a pre-game tailgate at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, which is normally a soccer or track-and-field arena.
The $950 doesn’t include hotel costs ($249 a night if you book the package) or the $50 game tickets.
Vacation Season Seagoing Coincidence?
Typically about 600 fans from each school go to the Bahamas Bowl, but, Breland says, “I think we’ll easily get that many. Some folks have obviously booked on their own.” And there’s a cruise going out of Port Canaveral that docks in the Bahamas the morning of the game, too. “It was like it was just meant to be. I have a feeling that’s going to turn out to be a very heavily UAB boat, because that includes your lodging and all your food,” Breland says.
It’s often reported that bowl games are usually money-losers for colleges and universities, though some dispute that. ESPN, which owns The Bahamas Bowl, has not yet announced the payout, but last year it was $450,000. Despite that, Ingram is unambiguous:
“I can tell you right now, we are not going to lose money.”
The NCAA pays for passports. The Bahamas Bowl gives money to Conference USA which will help UAB cover travel, shipping, and lodging costs. Ingram predicts UAB will break even, if you don’t include intangibles.
“All bowls are great, but this one is the most prestigious and unique locations. It’s the trip of a lifetime. It’s a reward trip for the team first, but also for the coaches and all the other people – staff, facilities, [NCAA] compliance, fundraising, marketing – who put so much energy into the team’s success. We’d love it if it were easier for our fans to get to, but at least a few hundred are coming,” he says. “For two years, this team had to play against itself, to scrimmage itself. Now, to do as well as they have? If any team deserves a reward, it’s the Blazers.”
UAB National Alumni Society Communications Specialist Greg Berry says the exposure for the school is huge. “You’re going to have basically a three, three-and-a-half hour commercial for UAB, and Ohio, but UAB, on the 22nd.”
Ingram points out that, in accordance with NCAA rules, bowl participation allowed the Blazers to get in another month of practice before next season.
The only other bowl the Blazers have played in was the Hawaii Bowl in 2004.