A unique game site is bound to present some unusual challenges in terms of logistics and travel.
That is something the Penn State football program will be facing as it prepares for its trip to Ireland to open the 2014 season against Central Florida on August 30th.
The highly anticipated contest in Croke Park Stadium is still over a year away, but planning is already underway.
Some lessons can be taken from traditional bowl games, but overall, the situation is a bit more complex.
“It’s a little more difficult because it’s international,” said Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner during a Friday morning conference call with reporters. “You have to deal with customs and bringing a lot of equipment overseas.”
Another key component is making sure all players on the Nittany Lion roster have passports to leave the United States.
“Many players don’t have them, so we have to institute that. Some of the details are more difficult, but they’re manageable with the help of the Irish people,” Joyner said.
Joyner was part of a group of people that recently traveled to Ireland and came away impressed with their organizational procedures.
“It’s like going to Canada. When you’re coming back, you go through U.S. customs in the airport in Dublin which is a huge advantage. They’re so helpful in facilitating those things.”
One big difference from a bowl game in December or January is how much time the team will spend at the game site. Postseason games normally fall between a break in semesters which allows players to spend a full week somewhere without having to worry about missed classes.
Classes for the fall 2014 semester are set to begin Monday, August 25th according to Penn State’s academic calendar. To work around a full missed week of classes, Joyner said the team will probably depart midweek and spend 3-4 days in Ireland leading up to Saturday’s game.
“This is an in-season game, so we’re going to be very cognizant of missed class time,” said Joyner, “We’ll spend a good amount of time there, but it likely won’t be a full week.”
Bill O’Brien, a man of Irish descent, is looking forward to the overseas trip.
“The players are excited. From a personal standpoint, I’m very excited,” said O’Brien. “My mom is a Murphy. My dad’s an O’Brien.”
O’Brien traveled to Ireland with his father when he was a teenager. His big priority will be keeping his team focused on a season opener, but he also hopes his players get a little time to enjoy some non-football aspects of the trip.
“Hopefully we get one day where we can practice in the morning and take the kids around and show them the history of Dublin and the surrounding area,” said O’Brien.
The game will allow O’Brien to go head-to-head against one of his mentors, UCF head coach George O’Leary. O’Brien worked as an offensive assistant on O’Leary’s Georgia Tech staff from 1995-2001.
“Coach O’Leary meant a lot to my career. He gave me my first break,” said O’Brien. “I think the world of the guy, and it will be a great experience to have our two teams over there together.”
“Fans told me they planned Christmas vacations around bowl trips. We can’t go to a bowl, but this is a bit of a Labor Day vacation, and the timing is really good with most people off from work. Hopefully we get a good turnout.”