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A Wazzu athlete shares what conference realignment means to her:

For one, long travel isn't just a number on a spreadsheet:

Good morning, and thanks for your continued support of Extra Points.

I write a lot about conference realignment here on this newsletter. I talk to ADs, conference commissioners, consultants, media executives, and all sorts of suits and industry insiders, hoping to better understand why certain moves happen and who may be impacted.

Their perspectives are important, but they only have part of the story. After all, realignment decisions also impact the athlete.

To better understand how recent conference realignment decisions actually shape the day-to-day experience of college athletes, I’d like to turn the time over to Alexandra Payne. Alexandra is a former hammer thrower for Washington State, and currently a grad student at Villanova. 

I asked Alex for her thoughts on the breakup of the Pac-12, and what folks like me are missing from the story of realignment. Here’s what she shared with me:

The Pac-12 has been burning up since the announced departures of USC and UCLA. Even though the conference is almost ash, many people are still fanning the flames of conference realignment debates, especially about cross-country travel. Troy Taylor, the Stanford football coach and the newest member of the ACC, said “We get on a plane for five hours, six hours, that’s not the end of the world. You get drinks served to you and some snacks, and it’s not that bad”, even mentioning that people used to have to cross the country in covered wagons.

It may not be covered wagons, but Olympic sports teams, particularly women’s teams, do not have the travel luxuries afforded to our fellow student-athletes in Football and Men’s Basketball. I competed in Track and Field for Washington State University as a hammer thrower. Track and Field and similar sports traditionally take multiple layovers to reduce costs, and even though the furthest I traveled during my time was to New Mexico, there were days where I left Pullman at 5:00 am, got to my hotel at 10:00 pm, and I competed the next morning at 9:00 am.

We only flew commercial flights, and had random seating order. When my throwing teammates, some who were 6’7 and 300 pounds entered the plane, some averted their eyes, likely thinking, “please don’t sit next to me and squish me for this 4-hour flight.” The best combination is a long-distance runner sitting next to a thrower, so we had enough space, but even then, airplane seating and long legs don’t mix.

It’s true, we get pretzels and a complimentary drink! I’ll get a hot tea while I work on a homework assignment for a class I’m missing while I butt elbows with my teammate preparing for a quiz due during our layover. Missing classes can hurt grades. I missed a pop quiz once, and was not given the opportunity to make it up, even after discussing my travel dates with my professor.

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