Before Pima College’s final football season began, coach Jim Monaco planned a treat.
He and his team would fly — not drive — to Ephraim, Utah, for Saturday’s road game against Snow College. The Aztecs would bus to Phoenix in the morning, hop on a flight to Salt Lake City, play Snow that evening, sleep in the airport and fly back Sunday morning.
Monaco’s math showed the luxurious (for junior college) arrangements would come at no extra cost. The cost of airfare would be negated by the money the Aztecs saved on hotel rooms and per diems.
But when Monaco asked his assistant to double-check the flight information with Southwest Airlines on Tuesday, he received a shock. Pima put down a nonrefundable deposit of $6,800 before the season, but had not paid the remaining balance. The deposit was gone, and so were any chances of flying in style.
“I blow my gasket first,” Monaco said, “and then I say, ‘Timeout. Let’s find out what’s going on.’”
It was not the type of distraction Monaco needed days before the most important game of the season. Pima is 6-1 overall and 4-0 in conference play heading into Saturday’s game at Snow (6-1, 3-1). The winner will take home the Western States Football League title and all but secure a bowl bid. The Aztecs will play their last-ever regular-season game next week at Arizona Western.
A Southwest agent offered Pima a flight departing on Friday morning and returning Sunday morning. The new price tag for 70 round-trip tickets: $43,200.
“I said, ‘Sir, that is 94 percent of my travel budget. I don’t have that,’” Monaco said. “(He said) ‘Coach, I’m really sorry. There’s nothing I can do.’”
Monaco — and Pima — found another way. Eventually.
Bobby Gragston, a student intern in the Aztecs’ athletic training department, told Monaco of a friend who’s a pilot for Allegiant Air. The airline books charters for $10,000 out of Mesa, but needs three to four days to process them. That was out.
Monaco reached out to Mountain View Tours, but the charter service the team uses to travel didn’t have any buses available for long-distance trips.
Monaco and offensive assistant Landon Wasson skipped Tuesday’s practice to find a solution. At 7 p.m. that night, Pima baseball coach Ken Jacome stuck his head in Monaco’s office and told him of a friend who runs a bus company in Albuquerque. The price was right — $29,000 round trip — but the bus company was booked.
Pima was facing fourth-and-long on Wednesday morning when athletic trainer April Jessee began Googling charter bus companies. GoGo Charters had exactly two vehicles available — a 56-passenger bus and one 25-passenger bus.
Pima was in, at a cost of about $28,000 — plus the $6,800 lost deposit.
“So, now we’re going our old way that we always go,” Monaco said. “We’re going up, we’re going to stay the night in Richfield, we’re going to beat Snow, we’re going to come home and take a nap.”
Those around Monaco were amazed that he kelp his calm given the financial and football stakes. He shrugged it off.
“I can rip anybody I want Monday,” he said. “This will just be sweet if we can get up there and get this win and win the WSFL and come back. It just adds to the story.”
So will this: Pima will dress for the biggest game of the season in a hallway. Snow College is hosting an eight-team basketball tournament on Saturday, meaning there’s no on-campus meeting available. Should that fail, the Aztecs have two new, hastily arranged buses that could double as locker rooms.
“I have no idea,” Monaco said, “where we’re going to be.”