No matter what the sport, or what the age, athletes around the world eagerly anticipate the release of the next season’s schedule. You look for the home opener, the tough opponents, and, oh yeah, the farthest away game. “Oh man, we have to go to (insert your personal least favorite city here).” Imagine walking into your locker room and getting this schedule.
10. at Penrose, New Zealand
The National Rugby League is the highest level of rugby in Australia. With nearly half of the 16 clubs based in the greater Sydney-area, the league is a dense cluster of clubs on the east coast of the continent. Well, except for one outlier, the New Zealand Warriors. The Warriors are one of the charter members of the NRL’s first season in 1998 after the “Super League War.”
Distance: 2085 miles from Townsville, Australia, home of the North Queensland Cowboys, out to Penrose, the only New Zealand team currently in the National Rugby League.
9. at Urumqi, China
The Chinese Basketball Association has grown exponentially since its formation in 1995. With over a billion people in its potential fan base, basketball has taken the country of China by storm. With the success of Yao Ming in the United States, and former NBA’ers in the CBA, the league has a strong foothold in the Asian sports market with 20 teams across China. Behind the EuroLeague and the NBA, the CBA is already the third strongest basketball league in the world. The Xinjiang Flying Tigers may not be a juggernaut, but they have the Xinjiang Province market covered. For those of you who think you’ve heard of the Flying Tigers, for a brief time in 2011 former New Jersey Net Kenyon Martin was the highest paid player in CBA history before scrambling back to the United States in 2012. For those who want to crack wise and say Martin was in the Outer Mongolia of Basketball, well, he really was. Mongolia is only a few hundred miles from Urumqi as the bird flies.
Distance: 2000 to 2100 miles from half the teams on China’s east coast to Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. There are no teams in the CBA within a thousand miles of Urumqi.
8. at Tel Aviv, Israel
The EuroLeague is the highest level of basketball in Europe. With teams spread across Europe from Spain to Moscow, over a dozen different countries participate in the league, with television sets across nearly 200 countries receiving the broadcast of the games. Founded in 1958, only about a decade after the National Basketball Association, the EuroLeague has been fraught with infighting and has gone through many name changes since its formation. Partly due to the multiple nations that are involved in the basketball politics.
Distance: 2200 miles from Madrid to Tel Aviv, Israel. Another drawback, no matter what your political beliefs, there always seem to be missiles being launched into Israel, or missiles being launched out of Israel, which is nothing that any sports team wants to deal with.
7. at Perth, Australia
The original Australian Baseball League existed throughout the 1990’s and then folded. In the past few years, though, there has been a resurgence of interest in Australian baseball and the second Australian Baseball League was formed in 2009. All teams in the league are found on the eastern half of Australia, except for one, the powerhouse Perth Heat. The league is interested in expansion internationally, having preliminary talks with both Japan and New Zealand for future cities. Part of renewed popularity has to do with the Australian Summer being December – March, making it an alternative for North American baseball players who want to play winter ball in the Southern Hemisphere.
Distance: 2240 miles from Brisbane on the east coast to Perth on the west coast. No team in the ABL is within a thousand miles of Perth.
Note: In the United States, practically every sports league has a New York to Los Angeles game on their schedule. That “routine” flight is 2450 miles and neither city seems to have much love for the other. For smaller leagues and colleges, transportation costs can break the back of your travel budget.
6. at Padang, Indonesia
The Indonesian Super League is the top level of soccer in the 5 levels of the Liga Indonesia. Plane rides are the norm as the participants are spread across 4 of Indonesia’s 17,500 islands. Indonesia is currently the fourth largest nation in the world with a population of nearly a quarter of a billion, but Indonesia is not known for its air safety standards, making all away games an adventure.
Distance: About 2800 miles from the eastern-most point of Indonesia, Jayapura (Persipura Jayapura were crowned champion in 2005, 2009, 2011, & 2013), home of one of the 2 teams in the league on the island of Papua, to Semen Padang on the island of Sumatra.
5. at Miami, U.S.A.
Miami, Florida is the home of the Florida Panthers in the National Hockey League. Now who doesn’t love Miami? Well seeing the roster is filled with Canadians, Europeans, and Americans from the Northern States, even the Panthers’ players feel like their home games are away games. Their current roster (2016) doesn’t have any players born south of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
Miami started as an expansion team in the year 1993, and despite half the teams in the NHL making the playoffs yearly, the Panthers make the playoffs about once every 10 years. Again, when you’re on the road and take your golf clubs along with your hockey sticks, it’s hard to focus on the frozen puck.
Distance: 2800 miles from the home of Canada’s Vancouver Canucks to Miami, Florida. And only 5,000+ miles from home for poor Aleksander Barkov of Tampere, Finland.
4. at University of Alaska Fairbanks, U.S.A.
A member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association starting in 2013, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks have struggled financially since re-joining Division I hockey in 1985. Probably because of transportation costs, since in the 80’s they were in the same division as teams in San Diego and Northern Arizona. As the years went on, U of A, Fairbanks has bounced from league to league, spending some years as an independent. Hopefully the WCHA is a good landing spot for a team that is finally starting to operate in the black. It is also a good move to return to a league with its natural geographic rival, the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves.
Distance: 3200 miles from Huntsville, Alabama, also a new member of the Association starting in 2013, to the center of the Alaskan wilderness, Fairbanks. Add 800 more miles or so for the drive.
[Strictly an aside. I actually saw Alabama-Huntsville play in the mid-90’s and they were really good. They won the Division II championship in 1996 & 1998. I stood and booed them as they beat my Mankato State (now Minnesota State) Mavericks. The Division II championship ended in 1999 as most of the division dissolved. Most hockey team either jumped to Division I hockey or fell to Division III.]
3. at University of Hawaii, U.S.A.
The Mountain West Conference is a college sports conference that encompasses 8 states, all west of 100W degrees Longitude. In 2012, the conference added the University of Hawaii for football only. Now this ranking, of course, doesn’t take into effect the beautiful weather or the exquisite scenery of the state. Simply the fact that most maniac coaches don’t care about any of that and you have to be back in class on Monday morning. 2 weeks in Hawaii for vacation- Awesome! 4 days, one football game, and over 6,500 miles on a round trip plane journey- Not Awesome!
Distance: 3340 miles from the campus of the Colorado State University to the campus of the University of Hawaii.
2. at St. John’s, Canada
The American Hockey League is the top minor league feeder system to the National Hockey League. How the team got to St. John’s, Newfoundland is an interesting story in itself. Born in year 2001 in the Internal Hockey League, which has since folded, the Minnesota Moose started out in the Twin Cities of Minnesota before moving to Winnipeg and becoming the Manitoba Moose. But a funny thing happened to the Moose, for in 2011, the Atlanta Thrashers were bought by the True North Sports Group and they brought the NHL back to Manitoba. So True North moved their existing franchise, the Moose, to Newfoundland and rechristened the team the St. John’s IceCaps, a 2,000 mile journey for those poor players demoted from the returning Jets. In 2015 the Ice Caps returned to Manitoba, but the team from Hamilton moved to St. John’s and are affiliated with the Montreal Canadians (for now, which is even a longer and more confusing story.)
Distance: In the year 2014 there were no teams in California in the AHL. In 2015, that number increased to 5. The farthest of these would be 3400 miles from the home of the San Diego Gulls to the home of the St. John’s IceCaps. If you’re a sadist and would like to take the drive, add nearly 1,000 more miles to your journey.
1. at Khabarovsk, Russia
The Kontinental Hockey League was founded in 2008 out of the ashes of the Russian SuperLeague. The best hockey outside of the National Hockey League has teams across Eastern Europe, besides the home country of Russia. During the 2011 KHL season, a plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed, killing the entire team. Unfortunately, taking a bus across the vast Russian landscape is simply not an option.
Distance: 4777 miles from the league’s western-most outpost Prague, Czech Republic, to Khabarovsk, the KHL’s eastern-most location. If you were up for the road trip, it would be just over 6400 miles of mostly Russian back roads, in the winter, to only 19 miles away from the Chinese border. Closer to Alaska than to Moscow, Khaborovsk was joined by Admiral Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East in 2013. Outside of Khaborovsk and Vladivostok, you’d need to travel over 2,000 just to find another team in the KHL on the map.