By Greg Johnson
The NCAA and GO Ground have partnered on a new multi-year agreement that will enhance ground transportation travel for teams competing in all 46 NCAA team championships.
The program, which primarily involves the selection of charter bus services, is focused on safety, improving the user experience of teams that travel by bus to NCAA championships and helping with overall travel cost efficiencies.
All teams traveling to NCAA championships by bus will be required to use only charter companies approved for the program. Those are the buses that will carry the official traveling party (student-athletes, coaches, administrators) to the championship.
Operators who currently work with teams during the regular season may apply to be certified to carry those teams for NCAA postseason competition.
Schools have until Nov. 1 to make recommendations of bus companies they believe could be added to the program. Also, there will likely be another window to add companies to the program before the winter championship season begins.
Unlike the airline industry where reservations can be found at centrally based locations on the Internet or through travel agencies, there is no such consolidated system for charter bus companies. Most companies operate independently, so there was little ability to manage standards of performance and cost. GO Ground and the NCAA are changing that paradigm.
“We needed to consolidate ground transportation for our championships,” said NCAA Associate Director for Travel and Insurance Juanita Sheely. “GO Ground demonstrated they had the technology platform and industry experience to help us accomplish this. We want to provide a safer product with good service to our membership institutions at a better cost.”
When looking at all NCAA championships as a whole, around 75 percent of the teams competing in NCAA championships travel to preliminary and final sites by bus. In Division I, teams within 400 miles of a championship site travel by bus, and teams in Division II and Division III take to the highways when the site is within a 500-mile range from their campus.
With that in mind, the NCAA and GO Ground, which is based in Chicago, conducted a pilot program in 2010-11 at selected NCAA championships..
The results led to the contract between the NCAA and GO Ground.
“We will be taking bus transportation to the highest level of safety the industry has ever seen,” Sheely said. “The U.S. Department of Defense used to be the gold standard for safety, but our program will go above that. Our goal is to make sure the equipment and the companies are as safe as possible.”
Toward that end, the NCAA program will have independent inspection and certification by Transportation Safety Exchange and Consolidated Safety Services.
There is no way to create a completely accident-free environment, Sheely said. “But it won’t be an accident because someone didn’t do their due diligence and is working with a company that consistently had previous problems,” she added.
“Safety is the one area where we will not compromise; if the bus charter company doesn’t meet our safety standards we’re not using them. Either operators meet the standards or they don’t.”
To participate in postseason championship transportation, service providers must meet and consistently maintain the NCAA’s new safety and service standards.
The safety certification process is an independent, objective and dynamic process performed by Transportation Safety Exchange, a division of Consolidated Safety Services. The safety experts at TSX/CSS have conducted the most advanced safety evaluation available in the U.S. for more than 20 years, including the ratings for the Department of Defense.
The operators in the NCAA Bus Operator Network who support teams during high-demand periods of November, March and May and are TSX certified will be given priority to high-profile championship events.
In support of the program, the NCAA and GO Ground are providing a proprietary technology platform for bus operators and a new Driver Rewards program for drivers who provide superior service to the championship teams.
For more information regarding participating in the NCAA’s new program, interested charter bus operators can contact GO Ground at NCAANetwork@gogroundoptions.com.
As for the cost savings, the championships in which the pilot program was used experienced a 25 to 30 percent decrease in travel costs.
Sheely said the agreement with GO Ground shrinks the pool of companies that will be used, which rewards operators and helps control costs. For example last year at one of the championships, a school was charged $1,500 a day for transportation. That and other cost discrepancies should be greatly reduced.
“Our goal now is that we can even things out,” Sheely said. “We don’t want someone in St. Louis and someone in Pittsburgh having $1,000 a day difference. There will probably be a little variation, but it shouldn’t be the variations we’ve been seeing.”
Sheely said some setbacks were experienced in the service component of the pilot program. But she is confident those are correctable after GO Ground experienced what it’s like to coordinate travel for multiple teams in a short timeframe.
“Our championships process is unique to anything in the travel industry,” Sheely said. “GO Ground was confident they could handle it all, but until you’re getting 180 soccer teams calling you in a five-hour span to make bus arrangements, you really don’t understand it. Now, they have a better idea of what we’re facing.”
There will be more staff and enhanced technology. Each team will be assigned a personal travel consultant who will handle their ground transportation throughout the competition.
The teams, schools and bus operators will also have 24-hour, seven-days-a-week online access to the most up-to-date information in regards to itinerary planning, communications and any other details. Every NCAA institution will have its own custom portal at www.GOchampionships.com. Teams should access the portal and begin planning their trips as soon as possible, even before the selections are announced. That will help in getting arrangements made as quickly as possible.
Policies regarding what is paid for and what is not have not changed. Institutions can find all these policies online at www.ncaa.org. Use of GO Ground for charter bus arrangements is required for all transportation that is paid for by the NCAA. Teams have the option to use GO Ground when the NCAA is not paying, but are not required.
Another new aspect of the program is the enhancement of the ground transportation experience for teams, guests and fans attending the Men’s and Women’s Final Fours.
GO Ground and SP Plus Gameday will collaborate to achieve goals that will provide a greater level of continuity. SP Plus Gameday will manage parking and shuttle transportation requirements, and GO Ground will manage the vehicle requirements which will come from the serive providers in the NCAA Bus Operator Network.
Any questions regarding the relationship or the travel policies can be directed to the NCAA travel department at email@example.com or 317/917-6757.