Georgia Tech men’s basketball will open its season against UCLA on November 10th in the Mercedes-Benz Arena at 11:30 pm. If that looks like the normal information for the tip-off weekend of college basketball season, that’s because I’ve not mentioned the game is taking place in Shanghai.
The Yellow Jackets arrived in Shanghai seven days before tip to take advantage of traveling halfway around the world for a basketball game, and the details around the trip are staggering. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the team will be making the international trip in a party of 35, complete with “22 equipment bags stuffed with balls, sneakers, uniforms, practice gear and more” as well as “its own video equipment, including laptops and a projector, medication, supplies for injury treatment and rehabilitation, and electric stimulation devices to activate muscles during the 14-hour flight from Detroit to Shanghai.”
Fortunately for Georgia Tech, the Pac-12 is playing host for the international event and covering most of the bill; even still, the trip will cost Tech $60,000-$70,000, with student-athletes missing a week of classes in the middle of fall semester.
Needless to say, this international trip is an extravagance for any academic organization, and yet, trips such as these are becoming more and more commonplace in college athletics. From an athletic department standpoint, is spending this type of money, upsetting the routines and studies of your student-athletes, and diverting dozens of manhours to logistics worth doing?
As is the case for many things in college athletics, there is not a single answer for all programs. Smaller schools might scoff at the notion of traveling 7,000 miles for a basketball game, while other programs are making these trips with some degree of regularity. The costs of such an undertaking are obvious, but before deciding if an international trip like this is right for your program, acknowledging the less-tangible benefits is also important.
Building Team Camaraderie
Experiencing new cultures and leaving comfort zones in a group is a fantastic way for a team to bond. In addition to building memories uniquely shared with a small cadre of people, traveling forces people together as they move through a new space, discovering things not only about the larger world around them, ut one another as a result of this new context.
A Rare Opportunity for Experiential Learning Outside the Classroom
Although it seems to have gotten skewed in past decades, ultimately college (and college athletics) is about education and learning. Much of the education that occurs at universities is inside the classroom, but perhaps even more important is that experiential learning that comes from being away from home and fending for oneself for the first time. For non-student-athletes, this occurs in several contexts: dorms, social circles, activities, study abroad, etc. However, for the student-athlete, much of the time for unique, outside-of-class experiences is taken-up by practice, games, study halls, and the like. Many S-As will never be able to spend a semester studying in a foreign place and miss out on that crucial learning opportunity. A trip abroad offers a shorter but still meaningful chance to gain experiential insights that make college so precious.
Provide an Opportunity to Do Something Never Done or May Never Do Again
For many student-athletes, travel abroad with a sports team will be the first, and perhaps only, opportunity to do so. Certainly, a trip to Shanghai, which requires a day of travel coming and going as well as vaccines, passports, etc., is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many of these players. Larger universities and conferences (like the Pac-12 in the case of GT vs. UCLA this year) have resources that can enable opportunities the average family or institution cannot offer. Perhaps using some of those resources to give your student-athletes the chance to do something so special is exactly how funds should be spent.
International trips can be a hassle for staff, expensive for schools, and trying for students’ schedules. In fact, just ask Georgia Tech MBB coach John Pastner, who recently said, “Someone should have punched me in the nose when I said yes about agreeing to the trip.” However, while the logistics and expenses are glaring, be sure to keep the myriad of benefits for your student-athletes in the forefront when considering whether or not to take what is potentially the trip of a lifetime.