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Archive for Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Woodling: Tips of trade for following KU football

October 20, 2004

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Not too long ago, Lawrence writer Susan Kraus gave me a copy of her book "A Game Day Guide to the Towns of the Big 12."

Inside the paperbound book, I found everything I possibly could want to know about eateries, watering holes, shopping and other attractions in the cities of the Big 12 Conference -- including, of course, Lawrence.

In the introduction, explaining why she wrote the book, Kraus quipped: "Because I love to poke around college towns and explore, and I have never met a college town I didn't like."

I won't argue with that, but I'm not sure a game day is the best time to explore a college town. I'm not saying it isn't OK to visit a Big 12 Conference city on a game day, but you had better be able to live with heavy traffic and high prices.

Those in the media, frugal folks that we are, usually avoid the two-night maximum and the jacked-up motel rates in college towns by bedding down in nearby cities. For instance, when the KU football team played Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., a couple of weeks ago, media members stayed in nearby small towns like Syracuse and Tecumseh.

With the Jayhawks playing Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman, Okla., most of the visiting media will stay in Oklahoma City, only about a half-hour drive from the Sooners' stadium. And you'd better believe the media will leave early for the noon game because traffic in Norman can make you wonder if you're in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

If you think Lawrence's streets are narrow, try accessing OU's stadium some time. I can't tell you how many media types smiled when the formation of the Big 12 Conference in 1997 meant Kansas would visit Norman once every four years instead of every other year.

Next week when the Jayhawks travel to Ames, Iowa, to meet Iowa State, most of the KU media will encamp in Des Moines and make the half-hour or so drive north to the home of the Cyclones. Access to Jack Trice Stadium isn't all that bad because you don't have to wind through city streets to reach it.

Another Big 12 town to avoid on game day is College Station, Texas. My advice is to stay in the northern part of Houston near George Bush Airport and make the 1 1/2-hour drive to Texas A&M. Same for Waco, Texas. Stay in Fort Worth and make the 1 1/2-hour drive south to the Baylor University campus.

When it comes to playing Texas, however, definitely stay in Austin. As home of the largest public university in America and the capital of the largest state in the Union, Austin is big enough that you can find a place to stay with reasonable rates. Moreover, the UT stadium isn't that far off Interstate 35, so access isn't difficult (if you don't dawdle at a Tex-Mex restaurant).

When in Colorado, you can't go wrong by staying in Denver instead of Boulder, one of the priciest cities in America. You can reach Colorado's Folsom Field in less than an hour from the Mile High City. Ease of access to the stadium is average.

Many people who go to Stillwater, Okla., to watch the Jayhawks play Oklahoma State stay in Wichita, then make the 1 1/2-hour drive south. But if you don't want to overnight in the Air Capital and frolic in Old Town, there are plenty of small Oklahoma cites with decent hostelries along the way -- notably Blackwell and Perry, home of the Cherokee Strip Motel and its Friday night all-you-can-eat seafood buffet.

Of course, if you're going to Kansas State or Missouri, you don't have to spend the night. Access to Manhattan has improved considerably with the widening of K-177 and the elimination of that traffic-clogging four-way stop intersection just northeast of KSU Stadium.

Missouri's football stadium is far off I-70, but the roads leading to it move smoothly. These days, the worst part of driving to Columbia, Mo., is I-70 itself -- a marvel 30 years ago, but today the aorta of interstate trucking.

I'm not trying to discourage you from making a road trip to a Big 12 Conference city. I'm just saying, be prepared by reading Kraus' book, be patient by accepting the traffic and be heavy of wallet.

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