SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Joshua Casher had a couple of carloads of friends and family make the drive to the College Football Playoff championship last year in Atlanta, when it was only a few hours away from his hometown in Mobile, Alabama.
With Alabama playing the championship game this year all the way across the country in the Bay Area, Casher's traveling party for his final college game as a Crimson Tide lineman is much smaller.
"It's just my mother. She's excited but I'm a nervous wreck," Casher said Saturday. "It's her first time on a plane. It was pretty difficult financially. You didn't want to step ahead. We had to make sure we made it to the national championship before we started making plans. Things were a bit difficult but I'm glad I was able to get her out here."
The CFP helps with the cost, giving each player a $2,500 travel stipend for friends or family members for both the semifinals and final, along with six tickets to each game.
The NCAA began the travel stipend program for the men's and women's Final Four in 2015. The CFP got a waiver to implement it for the inaugural championship game that January and has since given players travel money for family members for the semifinals as well.
"The stipend is a big help for travel but when a plane ticket is like $1,200 it gets tough," said Clemson offensive lineman Blake Vinson, whose mom and sister are making this trip from North Carolina, while his father stays home because of the cost.
That's a problem for most of the players in this game. With both teams and most of the family members from the Southeast, $2,500 doesn't go nearly as far this year as it did when the final was in Atlanta or Tampa, Florida, like it was the past two years.
"It definitely didn't cover everyone," said Clemson tight end Garrett Williams, who is bringing his parents, brother and two grandparents from central Florida to the game. "That was a problem this year with the game being so far. Flights were more than a thousand so it was tough to get everyone out here. The stipend doesn't cover everything but it does help."
Williams said his father booked flights during the fourth quarter of the Tigers' win in the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame, hoping to get them when they were as cheap as possible.
Alabama safety Deionte Thompson's family took things even a step further, buying plane tickets for 10 people to come out for the championship after the Tide beat Auburn in the regular-season finale back in November.
While that might seem a bit presumptuous, it proved to be a wise choice when Alabama qualified for the title game for a fourth straight season.
"I was just going in and focusing on doing my job every week and just hoping that all the dedication and hard work that we put in would (enable) us to get here and it did," Thompson said.
Several of the players said they try to stay entirely out of the whole ticket and travel discussion, delegating that topic to a family member so they can focus on preparing for the game instead of dealing with budgets and logistics.
"I have my dad control my ticket system," Clemson defensive lineman Xavier Kelly said. "I've been doing that ever since my freshman year to keep the pressure off me so I can focus on football and not worry about who's coming to the game."
For a few players, the location of the game is ideal, especially since many aren't using up their allotment of tickets and have some extras to share.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who grew up in Hawaii and has family in California, can't even count how many relatives he'll have at the game, although he did downplay a report that he would have 400 people in attendance.
Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris, who is from nearby Antioch, plans to have up to 15 people at the game.
"I gave them out mostly to my brothers and sisters. I'm trying to get some more but it's hard," he said. "It's kind of far from everybody else's family. I'm a West Coast guy so I love it because my family's here but everybody else is from the South. I can see why people are knocking it but I can't control that stuff."
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