The majority of public universities that compete in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision book players into hotels ahead of home football games, according to an investigation by Gatehouse Media, one of the largest publishers of local media in the United States.
Gatehouse filed public records requests with 109 institutions; of the 101 that responded, 93 schools spent a collective $4.91 million on home-game hotel rooms in 2018 — or a median of $44,000 per team and an average of $8,200 per game.
Reporter Kenny Jacoby cited the Florida Gators as an example:
Two orange and blue University of Florida buses pulled into Gainesville’s Best Western Gateway Grand behind a police brigade of five motorcycles and one SUV, lights flashing.
It was 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 6. Twenty-five hours before the Gators played their first home game of the football season.
Players and coaches descended the bus and, followed by police officers, entered the hotel. There, the team would spend the next 15 hours feasting on catered food, hanging out in the lobby and finally sleeping in rooms that fetch as much as $299 the night before a home game.
Police vehicles returned the next morning and escorted players to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, 7.7 miles away.
If the Gators’ lodging bill matched those it incurred during its 2018 season, it likely topped $6,800, minus taxes and fees, for some four dozen rooms across two floors.
Jacoby notes that Florida’s bill is “one of the more modest,” as other teams spent as little as $14,000 last year on home-game hotel room bills while at least one team’s bill totaled more than $250,000.
Rob Wilson, associate athletic director at Florida State University (which spent almost $96,000 on home-game hotel rooms last season), defended the practice, telling Gatehouse that it “eliminate[s] the distractions for the players in a college town the night before a football game. FSU’s upperclassmen are spread out in private housing all over the city, including large apartment complexes that often have loud, late-night parties.”
That makes sense, but medical officials offer a different take.
“I can’t speculate the reasons why they’re doing this and what they may be avoiding by recommending that the team spends the night away,” Kimberly Hutchison, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University, told Jacoby. “But from a medical perspective, all other things being treated equal, I would opine that sleeping at home would give them the best night of sleep and the best sleep quality in order to best prepare them for the game the next day.”
Indeed, Gatehouse cited peer-reviewed studies that link the first night in a strange environment, such as a hotel room, to poor sleep and ultimately poor next-day performance.
“When we educate people on proper sleep hygiene, we recommend routine, routine, routine,” said Hutchison, who was the lead researcher on a 2007 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study that determined first-night sleeps in new surroundings are often unproductive. “You go to bed at the same time, you try to wake up at the same time, you do the same wind-down routine, and all of that allows your brain to sort of prepare for sleep.”
But that’s exactly why Jerry Emig, associate athletics director at Ohio State University, says the Buckeyes football team, has stayed in a hotel the night before every football game — away and home — for more than a half-century. Last year, OSU spent $93,000 on hotel rooms before home games.
“We believe we would be breaking sleep routine if we did not stay in a hotel before a football game,” he said.
For more details on Gatehouse Media’s investigation, click here.