The Georgia Metros, a club basketball program with a long history out on the national summer circuit, has several teams in the traveling age groups. Their top team is sponsored by Nike yet they still are feeling the crunch. In years past they’ve made trips to national tournaments on both coasts but several factors have led even this team to scale back.
“Five of our teams are all taking one less trip than we normally would,” said Charles Huddleston, the Georgia Metros director.
The Metros have traditionally traveled via chartered bus as it has been more cost effective than air travel. A trip the Metros have made since its inauguration as a staple of the spring evaluation period is to Hampton, Va., for the Boo Williams Spring Invitational. The trip is approximately 600 miles each way and they could rent two buses and take four teams to the tournament. In years past the busses ran approximately $3,000, which includes fuel. For two teams of 12, plus coaches and chaperones, that made the 10-plus hour drive around $100 per person. When planning this year, Huddleston found the charter busses ranged from $5,000-$6,000.
Elan Brown (left) and assistant coach Vanessa White of
We read it in the news every day and see it around us - the economy is struggling. A can of soup is $3.95, mortgages are defaulting all across the nation, and the average gas price nation wide according to AAA is more than $4.00 per gallon. A majority of airlines are not only increasing prices to offset fuel costs but also hedging their profit margins by charging for luggage. The girls’ basketball community is not immune from being impacted by the economy.
The summer circuit is undergoing some changes even before the Youth Basketball Initiative has the chance to change the rules. If the national economic pundits are right and we’re looking at $5.00 for a gallon of gas next summer, traveling 10 to 12 teenagers across the country becomes decidedly less feasible.
Most teams planned and committed to tournaments months ago, before the last price spike in gasoline and before the airlines pushed prices up and even more airlines began charging for bags. But the consensus among club team coaches who spoke with ESPN HoopGurlz this week has been that teams will be looking for more regionalized events for next year.
Universities on the other hand have not felt the squeeze as much. Coaches from three BCS conferences said they are not cutting back on their scouting schedule. Even one West Coast school in a non-BCS conference and no football team to supplement their budget said they’ve gone over budget historically and have not been asked to push back. The coach of this school did note that what used to be a $1,200 ticket to Australia in years past is now $3,000 but the trip was still booked all the same.
The increase in the cost of buses for the Metros club team of course is fuel related because diesel has increased in price even more than your standard 87 octane unleaded. One bus can transport two teams so the cost is effectively $3,000 per team before tipping the driver which more than doubles the per person cost from a few years ago.
Airfare from Atlanta to Norfolk is $450-$650 round trip per person and, given the fact that summer team rosters are usually not set until after the high school season ends in March, there is little families or teams can do to purchase early when prices are a bit lower.
The only other feasible option for teams is to rent 15-passenger vans. These are surprisingly hard to find because of safety and insurance issues. Huddleston’s son, Matt, who is also a director with Metros, said one major Atlanta-area rental agency had cut back on their fleet with only two locations having the vans available. The agency told Huddleston that the cost to insure the vehicles is too high and there have been too many rollover accidents.
The vans run $100-$125 per day plus fuel and insurance options, and one team would need two vans to transport bags and the team members themselves. The team is looking at a five -day rental for of $1,250 ($625 per van). The drive is mostly freeways so a generous estimate on fuel economy of 13 miles per gallon and total of 1,300 miles (600 miles each way plus in -city driving to games and meals of approx. 100 miles) requires 100 gallons of gasoline. The fuel cost is at least $800 dollars ($400 per van at $4.00 per gallon).
The two vans cost a team making the trip from Atlanta to Norfolk at least $2,050. The van option is still risky because you don’t have a professional driver and you have a dangerous vehicle on the highway.
The economy has not only led to increased costs on travel but on everything else as well which affects a family’s ability to pay these costs.
“The economy is not good,” Huddleston said. “We have families that can’t pay.”
With all these factors in mind many club team coaches see their teams transitioning to a more regional schedule because traveling across the country wasn’t necessarily affordable to begin with and is nothing less of impossible for most teams in the current economic climate.