In the end, it was an easy call. For all the academic challenges and logistical hurdles posed by playing a football game 7,500 miles from home — getting 100 players through customs, for instance — Cal athletic director Mike Williams termed the decision a "no brainer."
The money, the cultural experience and the television exposure — we mentioned the money, right? — made opening the 2016 season against Hawaii in Sydney, Australia, an opportunity the Bears could not turn down.
"We're the only game in town," coach Sonny Dykes said.
Actually, the so-called Sydney Cup is the only college game on the planet Friday (kickoff is 7 p.m. on ESPN).
The season officially starts Sept. 1, but Cal and Hawaii received a waiver from the NCAA allowing them to play earlier. As a result, the Bears have two weeks to recuperate from the trip and get caught up academically before their second game, at San Diego State on Sept. 10.
"I had a lot of concerns," Dykes said about his initial reaction to the proposal. "The big thing for us was just how it was going to fall in our schedule.
"It was really important for our players to come back and have an open week after the trip ... That was a big part of it, was getting the waiver by the NCAA."
Win or lose on the field at Sydney's ANZ Stadium, the Bears' will generate $1 million more in profit than they would by playing a standard home opener against a second-tier opponent.
Williams readily acknowledged the financial benefits but also noted that it would be an unprecedented opportunity for the players. The vast majority received passports for the first time.
"It was fun to see their eyes light up," he said.
The Bears were approached about the trip 18 months ago by a representative of an Australian sports marketing agency, which hoped to stage the first college football game ever in Sydney and the first in Australia since Brigham Young played Colorado State in Melbourne in 1987.
Why Cal and not a team with more tradition and a larger fan base?
Because the Bears met the requirements as a west coast team with flexibility in its early season schedule, according to associate athletic director Chris Pezman, who oversaw Cal's preparation for the trip.
The more the Bears investigated the opportunity, the more convinced they became. The money talked; the exposure would be sensational; and the players would experience a world-class city. (Their itinerary includes a ferry tour of Sydney Harbour.)
Because the trip overlaps with the start of school, the players reached out to professors so that absences wouldn't result in dropped classes. They have their books and assignments, and two academic counselors are accompanying the team.
When the NCAA approved the waiver, the Bears took the final step and canceled the scheduled season opener against South Dakota. (They paid the Coyotes a fee and helped them find a replacement opponent, Williams said.)
Then came the small matter of relocating a 105-man football team, along with dozens of staffers and all the necessary equipment and training supplies.
An on-campus passport office helped streamline the bureaucratic process while coaches and athletic department officials reached out to college and NFL teams with overseas experience to determine best practices.
Penn State, which played in Ireland in 2014, was particularly helpful with advice on getting through customs. Meanwhile, Cal basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, who took the Bears on a 12-day tour of Australia last summer, advised Dykes on ways to limit the physical toll exacted by the long flight.
"That alleviated a lot of concerns," Pezman said.
The Bears turned their Virgin Australia 777 charter into a mobile football facility and designed a schedule to help the players acclimate to the 17-hour time change as quickly as possible.
Dykes ordered up two practices for the day of departure (Saturday), hoping it would help players sleep on the flight. After six or seven hours of shut-eye, they were awakened for in-flight exercises.
The linemen had seats in business class to increase comfort, and compression tights were used to improve circulation. Each player had an empty seat next to him.
(Pezman said some unused seats were sold to fans, allowing the charter to become a source of additional revenue.)
The training staff's greatest concern was dehydration — it can increase the chance of injury — so water and sports drinks were mandatory at regular intervals.
After landing Monday morning, the Bears went straight to practice, then checked into the hotel, held meetings and went to bed early.
The rest of the week will be split between Sydney exploration and game preparation.
"We've got to put on a show, quarterback Davis Webb said. "It's on global TV."
Cal's peers will be watching. Williams has spoken to representatives of several Pac-12 schools with an interest in playing Down Under.
"I wouldn't be surprised if this leads to something else," he said. "There have been some conversations about an annual game."