Picayune football coach Dodd Lee would be thrilled to see his team compete in back-to-back MHSAA state championships.
But with the football title games moving to Starkville this December, the cost to get the Maroon Tide there raises a question for his school and others.
Should the MHSAA help foot the bill for teams that have to travel farther?
“We’ve played in Jackson three times (at the state championships) and never stayed (overnight),” Lee said. “Last year, we chartered four or five buses and had a meal afterward. If we traveled about 2½ hours to get (to Jackson), you’d have to double that this year, and we’d have to get some hotel rooms.”
Last week, the MHSAA announced that the state football championships will rotate between Starkville and Oxford through 2017. Asa result, several coaches, including Lee and Gulfport’s Eddie Pierce,are asking the MHSAA to help with the front-end travel costs.
Gulf Coast-based Hotard Coaches Inc. supplied two of Picayune’s four buses in 2013. Based on an hourly rate, the cost for the two 56-passenger buses was $3,241. Travel from Picayune to Jackson and back is about five hours. Factoring in the time drivers had to wait at the destination increased the meter.
It would take over eight hours round-trip to reach Starkville if the Maroon Tide goes to the championships this December. Add in the need for lodging, meals and the cost to charter buses overnight, and the costs add up in hurry.
“There should be some compensation for the schools that have to drive over a certain mileage, because they may have to spend the night,” Lee said.
Gulfport is an additional 30 minutes farther from Starkville than Picayune. With the cost of travel increasing for coastal teams, Pierce also said the MHSAA should help defray costs.
“It’s definitely going to cost some money,” Pierce said. “We had 94 kids out for spring practice. If we made it to the state championship game, we’re taking everybody. We would have to go up the day before the game, and they would have to help us with a place to stay.”
The MHSAA said it has discussed the possibility of helping teams financially.
“As we’ve looked at it, if (schools) have to travel a certain distance, we’d look to help with lodging and meals,” MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said. “If that’s something we can do, we certainly want to be able to do it.”
Jackson’s Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, a central location, had hosted the games since 1992. Obviously, teams closer to Oxford and Starkville would see travel costs decline.
“Jackson is centrally located, but (traveling to the new location is) really not as far as the Corinths and Boonevilles and those schools that have been coming four hours in basketball and football to Jackson for a number of years,” Hinton said.
Each year, the 12 teams that play in the championships get a cut of the overall revenue brought in, which includes ticket sales.
The number of tickets sold for the 2013 championships was 13,695. According to Hinton, the games average 20,000 to 25,000 in attendance. The organization hopes moving the games to better facilities will be more accommodating in case of inclement weather (with the use of skyboxes and club-level seating). In turn, the schools may receive more of the shared revenue with the additional attendance, the MHSAA figures.
“We hope that we would have 30,000 (in attendance) and above,” Hinton said.
Oxford, Picayune’s opponent in the 5A title game, traveled over five hours round trip last December.
For the Chargers to reach Jackson, the total travel costs for five chartered buses — four for the football team and one for the cheerleading squad — was $2,270. That figure, according to Oxford School District communications coordinator Kelly Graeber, was solely for the bus rental and fuel.
Tupelo played in the 6A championships and traveled about 182 miles to Jackson. The Golden Wave, however, cut additional costs by using their own school buses and not a charter company. They ended up paying about $5,000 for 10 school buses (three for the team driven by football coaches and the rest for the band and cheerleaders), according to athletic director Andy Schoggin.
This year, if Tupelo was to make the championship, the Golden Wave would drive only 68 miles to get to Starkville.
“If we did the same set up, we’re looking at a $3,500 difference in traveling,” Schoggin said. “That would put our costs way down.”
Contact Courtney Cronin at (601) 961-6091 or ccronin@jackson.
gannett.com. Follow @CourtneyRCronin on Twitter.
By the numbers
The cost of two of Picayune’s four chartered buses to the 2013 state championship based on an hourly rate. If the Maroon Tide makes the championships in Starkville this December, that number could double or triple if the team stays over night near Mississippi State.
Tupelo used 10 school, not charter, buses to get to Jackson last December. The athletics department typically pays $1.00 per mile. For an approximately 400 mile round trip and $1000 divided among the drivers, the total cost for travel was $5000. With the games only 68 miles away in 2014, the Golden Wave would cut their cost by about $3500 if they travel to Starkville this year.