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Trying times on the road in Great West Conference

The Great West Conference has only five football teams, making it one of the smallest Division I FCS leagues in the country. Geographically, it's one of the biggest, stretching from Grand Forks to California. Travel is difficult. And that perhaps...

The Great West Conference has only five football teams, making it one of the smallest Division I FCS leagues in the country.

Geographically, it's one of the biggest, stretching from Grand Forks to California.

Travel is difficult.

And that perhaps is the biggest reason home teams have had the advantage in league play this season. Of the eight league games so far, only one team -- UC Davis -- has managed a road win, that victory being a 24-23 overtime decision at South Dakota.

On that trip, UC Davis chartered an airplane to make the trip easier.

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"We fly commercial most of the time," UC Davis coach Bob Biggs said. "It's tough. There is no way to get around it. That's just the way it is from an economic standpoint.

"But we felt that (South Dakota game) was the one game we'd charter because of South Dakota's home record."

UC Davis hosts UND on Saturday with the Great West title on the line. The winner takes the title outright. UC Davis is seeking its second Great West title, while UND -- in its second FCS season -- is trying to win its first.

UND faces the longest trip of the season in its game at UC Davis.

The Sioux, however, are fortunate in that they travel exclusively by charter airplane, an advantage lacking at most FCS schools.

"We're fortunate that our administration sees fit that this is how we're supposed to do things at the Division I level," UND coach Chris Mussman said. "Chartering is easier on our players. It's huge."

Whether that will make a difference in Saturday's title game remains to be seen. But the rigors of traveling commercial -- and by bus in some instances -- have taken their toll on other league teams.

One of UC Davis' worst losses of the season came at Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds won 59-35. UC Davis did not charter to Utah.

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"We seemed tired," Biggs said. "We didn't seem to play with the same energy and emotion."

When Cal Poly played at UND, Mustangs' coach Tim Walsh said it was a long travel day for his team.

"When we played North Dakota, we bused three hours to Los Angeles, got up at 5 a.m. (the next day) and flew to Minneapolis. We then bused (to Grand Forks) and got in around 7 o'clock at night.

"Some of the locations we play at are not easy to get to. You need to be able to get to places and be fresh to play 60 minutes. And we have a three-hour bus ride to start our trips, period."

South Dakota bused to Greeley, Colo., two weeks ago, only to get caught in a snowstorm in North Plate, Neb., the day before the game. The Coyotes, however, managed to make it to Greeley the day of the game, where they lost 21-17.

South Dakota plays at Cal Poly on Saturday. It won't be an easy trip for the Coyotes.

The team was scheduled to bus to Omaha, Neb., on Thursday. Today, the team was scheduled a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call to fly out of Omaha. The team is scheduled to change planes in Dallas, where they'll fly to Fresno, Calif.

The Coyotes scheduled a workout at Fresno State for later today. On Saturday, they bus 2½ hours to Cal Poly for their final game of the season.

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"If you're going to charter, this would be the one trip you'd want to do it," South Dakota coach Ed Meierkort said. "The chartering (at South Dakota) will come later."

Southern Utah, however, chartered to South Dakota last week. The easier travel didn't help as South Dakota rolled to a 45-21 win over Southern Utah.

Finding the easiest way to travel is a key to success in the league because of its balance.

"If we played at neutral sites, we'd all be 5-5," said Cal Poly's Walsh. "I don't think there is any one team that much better than any team."

Nelson reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1268; (800) 477-6572, ext. 268; or send e-mail to wnelson@gfherald.com .

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.


He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.



He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.



Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or wnelson@gfherald.com.
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