Selection Sunday has passed. Villanova is the top overall seed. And now the Madness of March can truly begin. For fans hoping to take the trip with the Wildcats, it’ll cost you.
Sixty-eight teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament, each embarking on their respective “Road to the Final Four” some time this week. Like most things surrounding the NCAA Tournament, the term “Road to the Final Four” is trademarked, used only in promotions by the NCAA, media rights holders and paid sponsors.
And yet, some of us take this whole “road” idea literally. The NCAA Tournament is our country’s best sporting event because it spans the entire country. Teams from Washington and Florida and Vermont and Arizona are all competing for the same trophy, playing games in 14 different cities, from Buffalo — where Villanova gets started Thursday evening — to Salt Lake City, Orlando and Tulsa, with every team in each city hoping to take their respective road all the way to Phoenix, Arizona for the Final Four.
For Villanova, that’s a lot of road. It’s precisely 3,319 miles of road, and 50 hours of driving…without traffic.
Traveling to Buffalo? It’ll cost you.
Villanova has a tough road back to the Final Four. The top overall seed in the tourney was given no favors by getting Duke in their region — as the top seed, Nova should have been placed with Louisville, the eighth overall seed, but instead got the seventh, Duke, a team many thought deserved a No. 1 seed. Nova has the easiest first-round game, but their second round match up in Buffalo will be tough. The Wildcats play Mt. St. Mary’s or New Orleans this Thursday at 7:10 p.m. (on CBS) then face the winner of Wisconsin and Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Tickets for the tournament aren’t bad right now. As of Monday morning, Session II in Buffalo could be had for as little as $60, with lower bowl seats around $115. The entire day in Buffalo — two games in the afternoon then the evening session with Nova and the Wisconsin-VTech game — will run about $250, with lower bowl seats around $325. Blame Notre Dame for the premium.
Saturday’s tickets can be had for about $135 on Stubhub, which is not bad. Hold out if you can, because if Notre Dame loses to Princeton, that price will plummet.
While tickets to the games aren’t bad, tickets to Buffalo are rather pricey.
As of Monday morning, the cheapest flight, per Trip Advisor’s list of discount airfare sites, is $729, round trip. The flight is only an hour and 20 minutes, so it’s a quick trip, but it sure as heck ain’t cheap for a mid-week flight to Buffalo.
Maybe with the snow coming this week prices will change, but it’s hard to think it’ll be easier to fly into the region if they get hit with the weather we’re all expecting. Flying seems like a bad idea.
Rail and Road
Weather permitting, driving is the way to go, as the trip from the Main Line to Buffalo is only 369 miles, which should take just under six hours, stops for snacks and stretches notwithstanding.
If driving isn’t your thing, the train is an option. Amtrak leaves Philly at 5:15 a.m. Thursday and stops in New York City, where you can hop on the 63 Maple Leaf to Buffalo to get you into town at 3:14 p.m., with nearly four hours to get to the arena.
The trip to Buffalo on Thursday is just $76, but the trip back on Sunday is $108, leaving Buffalo at 1:05 p.m. and not getting back into Philly until half past midnight on Monday.
Total round trip: $184. And 20 hours on a train. To Buffalo.
Where to stay
Once you’re in Buffalo, you’ll need a place to stay. Surely there will be some hotels available, but given the teams and media and NCAA representatives and staffers gobble up hundreds of hotel rooms near the arena, it might make sense to go AirBnb.
As of Monday morning, there are some cheap places right near the arena. Be careful what you click, though. The $35 dollar option is a bed in a room with 13 other beds. It’s probably worth the extra $40 or $50 to have some privacy. Also, some of the closest locations to the games don’t cost any more to add another guest, so bring a buddy and share the cost! Let’s say it’ll be about $250 for three nights if you go it alone, and half that if you go with a friend.
A memorable weekend in…Buffalo
All-in budget for a four-day, three-night trip to Buffalo this weekend, with tickets to the games should run about $600, assuming you split a room. Driving will save probably $100, given gas and tolls, and cut four hours each way.
The Road to the Final Four
Per Google Maps, Villanova has second-shortest ‘Road to the Final Four’ of any of the top seeds. Kansas has the shortest road, at 1,742 miles, while North Carolina has a 4,110-mile trek to Phoenix, with stops in South Carolina and Tennessee. Gonzaga, geographically located in the West the entire tournament, actually has the longest road of the four No. 1 seeds, with a 4,587-mile road to the Final Four, by way of Salt Lake City and San Jose.
These are literal road miles, calculated by starting at each team’s home arena and mapping the route to-and-from the first and second round venues, then to-and-from their respective regional venue, then just to the Final Four, because once you cut down the nets in Phoenix it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get back home for the parade.
Why there and back? If you’re planning to follow your alma mater or favorite local team all the way to the Final Four, you will have five days between the second round and Sweet 16 and as many as seven days between the Regional final and the Final Four. Get back to work, so you can make enough money to afford these lavish road trips.
Nova vs. The top seeds
Buffalo is the closest first and second round venue to Philly this year, so while it’s not ideal for Nova in terms of travel, it’s the best they could have hoped to get. And it’s a much shorter trip than their potential second-round opponent in Wisconsin, which has a construction-filled 677 miles — more than 10 and a half hours — to get from the Kohl Center to Buffalo.
By comparison, Duke’s first round trip is just 240 miles to Greenville, SC. North Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the South, has the same trip as Duke. The No. 2 seed in that region, Kentucky, only has to travel 188 miles to Indianapolis.
The Midwest top seed Kansas plays in Tulsa, a mere 217 miles from campus, while No. 2 seed Louisville plays in Indy, just 113 miles from their arena.
The West is the only region that has any of the top two seeds with more travel then Villanova. Gonzaga has to travel 720 miles — 10 hours, 22 minutes — to Salt Lake City, Utah, while Arizona has 776 miles — 11 hours, 44 minutes — to the same venue.
Years ago, with sagging attendance in local venues for the first two rounds, the NCAA decided to put the best teams as close to campus as possible, thereby giving their fans a better opportunity to make the trips. It doesn’t always work out to a team’s advantage — as close as Duke is to home, they may have to face South Carolina in Greenville in the second round — but mostly, teams on the top two or three lines get a real home-court advantage by playing close to campus.
1 vs. 2
This year it just so happens that a few of the No. 2 seeds also benefit from being close to previously-determined Regional sites. Kentucky, for example, is four and a half hours closer to the South Regional in Memphis than Carolina. Arizona, while still 825 miles from San Jose, is still two hours closer than Gonzaga. Not so for Kansas and Louisville, as the Jayhawks will be less than an hour from campus in the Regional rounds.
For Nova, MSG is ostensibly a home game. They’re 13-2 in their last 15 games at the Garden, including a perfect 4-0 this season, and the trip is just 106 miles by car. Duke, with all their success over the years in MSG — and a national following of front-runners that will surely fill the gym in New York — are 490 miles away from the Garden, a seven and a half hour drive.
Book your flight to Phoenix
Do you think Nova will make it back to the Final Four? Put your money down now, as flights to Phoenix are just $430 round trip if you book today. That doesn’t include lodging, nor does it factor in tickets to the game, which could run as much as $270 right now for the Final Four, and about that much for the title game.
That’s about $1,000 plus hotel and lodging which will be another, say, $500. Plus the trip to New York for the East Regional, where you can get tickets to right now for $400. Add in about $30 for the train and the $600 to go to Buffalo and — without food and drink — following Villanova through the NCAA Tournament could run about $2,550.
Can you put a price tag on being a part of history?
Yes. It’s about the price of remodeling a bathroom, but surely more satisfying.