Travel makes the team grow stronger
The Wolverines traveled every weekend for six weeks starting the first week in February and ending the second week in March. During that time they traveled to Florida twice, Nevada, Georgia, California and Kentucky. They played 15 games against opponents ranked in the Top 25.
And now the Wolverines are ranked seventh in the RPI.
Check the schedules. The better teams from the North and Midwest travel during the preseason. If you want to be the best, you have to be prepared for the road slog late in the season and play the best.
Michigan puts in the preseason travel time because without playing Big 10 teams, there is not enough competition around to prepare for league and postseason play. Missouri, Oklahoma and DePaul are among the other teams that travel often in the preseason for the same reasons. This year, they each traveled four weekends.
Jessica Merchant, a former national team member and national champion with Michigan who now coaches at UMass, recognizes the benefits of traveling in the preseason.
"Traveling a lot in the preseason has its pros and cons," Merchant said. "While it causes the student-athletes to miss a lot of class, which is not ideal, early preseason travel has the potential to create a hostile environment on the field that would simulate what a team might face in the postseason, which is important."
After traveling week after week in the preseason, teams get used to being on the road, taking care of schoolwork and living out of a suitcase. For many teams, league games can be pretty far from home. Michigan to Penn State is not close; neither is UCLA to Oregon or Missouri to Texas. Those teams that have been traveling together know the routine, are more comfortable together and are more inclined to have smooth transitions from home to away games.
In addition, when it comes time to play in regionals, super regionals and the WCWS, who knows where teams will travel. Knowing the travel routine and establishing chemistry off the field gives teams an edge over competition. This is why teams that travel early tend to succeed in postseason play.
Being able to adjust to grass and dirt in different locations is something that people take for granted. Playing surfaces can drastically differ from field to field and can change the way the ball moves. Being prepared to play on any surface during preseason play can give a team the advantage going into a regular-season game. After all, it takes only one bad hop to lose or win a game.
It is true that the athletes miss a lot of class during constant travel, as Merchant stated, but this is something that comes with the territory. It is good for student-athletes to get used to doing work on the road since it is something they will have to do throughout their careers.
Some may disagree and think that traveling early on wears teams out. However, teams that don't travel early and play a robust schedule may not have the RPI to make it into postseason.