The independent voice of Notre Dame Athletics

  • The Gist of our Goals

    by Mike Coffey

    A couple weeks ago, I reviewed the 2014-16 football schedules ND released before the holidays, and said I would talk about the Scheduling Philosophy “tomorrow”. Obviously my concept of the word “tomorrow” is a little skewed, because here we are in January. But tomorrow has come, and as I’ve always said, some things you won … wait, that’s not it. Better late than never. Yes, that.

    Jack Swarbrick talks about the scheduling goals in this transcript of the press conference. There also, however, is a a video interview with JS and Jack Nolan discussing the future philosophy of scheduling, and these are the details (along with some others) I’m going to look at most closely, particularly those starting at about the 3:20 mark.

    Before I do, though, I’ll repeat one caveat from the last article: Scheduling as an independent these days isn’t easy. Conferences are starting to pass rules prohibiting playing mid- or late-season games outside the conference. I’m not going to claim Jack’s job is easy in this endeavor, and overall, I believe he’s done a good job on this. However, I’m not going to downgrade the financial and promotional value of a game against ND for potential opponents either, so let’s remember he’s not going hat-in-hand to these schools begging them to schedule us.

    Let’s get this party started. Going forward, the framework of ND’s 6-5-1 12-game football schedules will be:

    Game 1: Home ACC game
    Game 2: Home ACC game
    Game 3: Road ACC game
    Game 4: Road ACC game
    Game 5: Road/Home ACC game
    Game 6: Home/Road Navy
    Game 7: Home/Road Southern Cal

    100 percent on board so far. Unlike some, I don’t have a real problem with the ACC agreement, so long as it doesn’t throw the 4-4-4 aspect of the schedule out of whack. The southeast is among the hottest recruiting areas you’ll find, and ND needs to have exposure there. We’ll have opportunities to see games in places like Atlanta and Miami. Road trips to Virginia and Clemson are supposed to be very enjoyable. North Carolina is a great state to visit. So long as the rest of the schedule is done correctly, the ACC commitment shouldn’t affect things.

    I also agree with reserving a slot for Navy every year. While SC’s rivalry with Notre Dame needs no explanation for anyone even peripherally exposed to Fighting Irish football history, Navy is the longest continuous series ND has. If it weren’t for the Navy, ND would have closed during WWII and who knows if it would have re-opened. And if the 2016 schedule is any guide, the wild-card ACC game seems to be on the road the years we play Navy at home, so they can be slotted together. Yes, I know their current coach is a dick. Coaches don’t last forever.

    Up to here, it’s a 4/3 home or road balance depending on the year. Excellent so far.

    Game 8: Road/Home Stanford

    OK, here’s where I begin to waver a bit. SC in a protected slot is a no-brainer, but Stanford is a little tougher to justify for me. Jack talked about “the shared values between the institutions”, and to a degree I understand that. ND should, to the extent it’s able, reward those programs giving more than lip service to the “student” in “student-athlete”, and Stanford has that history.

    But as with so many things, there’s the PR reason for doing something and the real reason for doing it. The Pac-12 conference restricts non-conference games to the first three weeks of the season, and playing someone out-of-conference after that point requires a waiver. ND/USC was grandfathered in when the rule was passed, but the Pac-12 demanded a second school be put in the rotation to help them keep the schedules balanced. If SC was playing a non-conference game in Week 6, another Pac-12 school would either have to be off or play a non-conference game to balance it out. A second game vs. ND makes that juggling easier.

    If the Pac-12 limited ND to one selection for that second team, I understand that selection being Stanford. All other things equal (which it would be here), consideration for things like academic attention should factor in. But if the Pac-12 just needed a second team every year and left it up to ND to pick which one, I don’t agree with giving Stanford “Most Favored Nation” status in perpetuity, which Jack’s statement seems to do. If Stanford keeps playing like the Tier-2-possibly-moving-to-1-given-time team it’s been the last couple years, great. But if they regress to their historical mean, ND will have two Tier 3 programs locked into valuable home-and-home slots. That’s going to make balancing the rest of the schedule a lot harder, especially when there are a couple Tier 3 programs already in the ACC and others with the capability of playing like one in a given season.

    If Notre Dame can only play two Pac-12 teams a season, why limit themselves to SC and Stanford? One could argue their presence on the schedule makes UCLA and Cal unnecessary, and desire for variety aside, that makes sense. But what about Washington? What about Oregon? Arizona or the Sun Devils? ND would have to use up another H/H slot to get those teams on the schedule just to accommodate a team we’ve only played 28 times in more than 100 years.

    Stanford offsets SC in the home/road balance, right now we’ve got four home and four road games scheduled per year.

    Game 9: Shamrock Series neutral site
    Game 10: Home-only opponent

    Wavering even more now. I think the Shamrock Series is stupid, and I believe (a) playing Miami in Soldier Field in front of 61,500 instead of 90 miles away in South Bend in front of almost 20k more people, (b) turning the games into de-facto road games the next two seasons, and (c) needing a return engagement in San Antonio when we’ve not only already played there in the Series but are already playing 80 miles away in Austin the same year, illustrates it.

    The stated goal (aka PR reason) of the SS is to expose the “Notre Dame experience” to areas of the country unfamiliar with it. That made sense in San Antonio in 2009. But since then, we’ve played in NYC (where we already get plenty of exposure), Maryland (where we play Navy every couple of years), and the aforementioned Chicago. Then we came back to Texas to give Dallas a Shamrock shower. In the next three seasons, we’re looking at Indianapolis (who hardly needs to be reminded who Notre Dame is), Boston (ditto), and San Antonio redux. Doesn’t sound like Irish evangelizing to me.

    The supposed actual reason for the Shamrock Series was the reticence of the Powers That Were When the Contract Was Signed to give NBC night games to broadcast. A cadre of collars was against excessive night games for a myriad of reasons, so the compromise reached was Notre Dame would play “home games” away from Notre Dame Stadium at night. NBC would get their advertising ducats and ND would protect afternoon kickoffs (sort of), so everyone was happy.

    Since then, though, the folks under the Dome have become much more amenable to playing under the lights, announcing we’ll have three night games in Notre Dame Stadium every two years going forward. They’ve also discovered, in a world of conferences protecting their geographic footprint via television contracts and teams knowing the value of having an ND game on their home schedule (hello, Arizona State), getting opponents to agree to appear in these games is very tricky. We can talk about “finding compelling opponents” all we want, but a compelling opponent is going to want just as many games in their venue as ND gets to control. So unless ND is willing to give up the opportunity to host a compelling opponent in South Bend in order to put them into the Shamrock slot (in and of itself a dumb move), I doubt we’ll find quality takers.

    This would have been a perfect time to deem the Shamrock Series as having fulfilled its purpose and put it out to pasture. Sadly, the opportunity was allowed to pass us by. It remains to be seen how these Shamrock games will be filled in 2017 and beyond, but in case it’s not already obvious, I ain’t hopeful.

    With an even number of games, you need a home-only buy game to offset the Shamrock slot. I have no problem with one of those to start the season off, provided we keep the FCS types out. But we’ve got Navy in a protected slot and a neutral-only slot to fill that, all other things equal, only the desperate would desire. Including a buy game increases the chances of a schedule being bottom-heavy, which we’re getting perilously close to in 2016.

    We’re at 5-4-1 on the home/road scale, so that leaves us with:

    Game 11: Home/Road opponent at home
    Game 12: Home/Road opponent away

    Unless one of these slots is used to somehow amp up the quality of the Shamrock opponent (again, a waste), this leaves two slots to maintain both the strength and geographic variety of Notre Dame’s annual football schedule. I know Jack said one in the video, but I think he’s off there, although I’m willing to be corrected. I suppose it can be done, but it makes things much much harder than if the Shamrock was eliminated and two more true home-and-homes could be created. Flexibility is key when scheduling as an independent.

    Outside of the structure, some other philosophical goals apparently are striven for:

    (1) Playing on Saturday. ND wants to stay away from the world of Thursday and Friday night games, and I greet this with thunderous applause. During-the-week games are abominations borne of also-ran schools’ prioritizing TV availability uber alles, and are a beast Notre Dame should help starve. I don’t think there’s any danger of ND having to play a home game any day but Saturday, but to the extent they’re able, they should demand weekend games on the road. The good news is ND is a very strong eyeball draw the networks (read: EsPN and its minions) will want on their Saturday broadcasts. The bad news is probably a steady diet of road games at night, which we’ve already seen the last couple seasons. Pick your poison, I guess, but I’d much rather see ND at night on Saturday than elsewhere on the calendar. Good for Jack (and those above him on the food chain) making this crystal clear.

    (2) Controlling bye placement. Another excellent idea. The timing of a schedule sometimes means just as much as who you play, and strategic off weeks only help Notre Dame in the quest for National Championships. If I understand the ACC agreement correctly, we tell them the weeks and they give us the teams, so, to a limited extent, off-weeks remain in ND’s domain.

    (3) Maximize geographic reach. Three for three on the outstanding-o-meter. Jack’s going to use a four-year window to make sure we’re hitting all the right notes in geographic exposure. This is crucial to ND’s survival as an independent, and something B1G membership would have destroyed, which is one of the many reasons I objected to it so strenuously. With the ACC in the Southeast, one CA game a year, and home games in the Midwest, there remain only a couple boxes to be sure to check every year (annual tilt vs. Texas on Thanksgiving week, anyone?).

    (4) Playing in special places. OK, I guess. I imagine this means more trips to Ireland, but if we’re going to do the out-of-the-country thing, I’d rather see a game in Rome or Vancouver. I don’t necessarily have the sweatshop objection to China the way others do. If these kind of games were the Shamrock games, I wouldn’t object to it as much because we likely could get better teams interested.

    (5) Variety of conference opponents, including a priority for SEC. [ecstatic swoon]

    (6) Play like institutions. According to Jack, this is priority one, and while I agree it should be on there, I don’t think it should be first, especially when a lot of those “like institutions”, by and large, have crappy football programs. If you can fit them into the 4-4-4 structure, fine, but let’s not bottom out the schedule to make sure Vanderbilt gets a game with us.

    (Although, having been to Nash-vegas for a Hawks game, I can confirm that would be a kick-ass road trip. So Vanderbilt is OK)

    (7) Playing “our family”. Hold on thar, Baba Looey, this is Bad Idea Jeans. We’re playing UMass and Nevada because they currently have former ND assistant coaches on their staffs? That’s a really crappy reason to schedule a team, especially given the mobility of coaches in football today.

    In fact, we’ve already seen how crappy it is, as not a week after the schedule was finalized, UMass fired Charley Molnar. They could have fired him at the end of the season, but instead waited a month while potential replacements could have been lost and recruiting fell by the wayside. Does anyone doubt for a second the Minutemen waited until the ink was dry on the game contract before removing the only reason ND was considering them for the schedule? To make matters worse, they now seem to have an on-campus contingent seeking to return to the FCS, which would remove ND from the list Jack so proudly talked about of teams who have only played FBS-division opponents. Please please pleeeeeeeeease someone tell me there’s a clause in there nullifying the game if UMass drops out of the MAC, because if there isn’t…….

    I can hope against hope the Shamrock Series goes on a Lake Tahoe fishing trip. But outside of that, these guidelines at least are a good start. We’ll see how things develop.


    14 Responses to “The Gist of our Goals”

    1. I am, at the very least, really happy to hear about Savvy Jack’s SEC scheduling priorities (good luck ever getting the assholes to come up and play in the Arctic North, of course). I am forced to agree with you about the Shamrock Series thus far (with the exception of the Ireland game which I still think was a very cool idea, and the first Yankee Stadium game because I am a New Yorker and also a sucker).

    2. Mike Coffey says:

      After reading the op’s on RH regarding China, I officially withdraw my support of that game. Too many logistical nightmares.

    3. Like this schedule so far. Gonna be fun vs. FSU and covers the U.S. Although, it’ll get boring playing the same ACC teams over time, variety is the spice of life.

    4. I’m ok with the schedule. I’d say keep the Shamrock series going for a few more years. Here are some places I think they should try to play a game.

      Cincinnati (vs Kentucky or Louisville)

      New Orleans (vs a Big XII or SEC school, such as Ole Miss, LSU, TCU, Texas A & M)

      Washington, DC (vs Penn St, Virginia, or Va Tech)

      Charlotte, NC (Vs ACC or SEC school)

      San Diego, CA (vs Navy, or PAC 12 school)

      Dallas, TX (vs SEC or Big XII school, OK State, LSU, etc)

      Cleveland, OH (vs Cincinnati, Louisville, Miami (OH)

      I like the ACC schedule. I like the fact the Irish will be playing up and down the east coast, keeping one game a year in California as well. Swarbrick still needs to maintain a small tie to the B1G, keeping Purdue, Sparty, Michigan, and maybe even Ohio State in some kind of rotation. It doesn’t have to be every year, but you need to find a way to keep the B1G on the schedule. This deal with the ACC will help recruiting. If they would have stayed with the B1G, with the slow migration of the population from the midwest, it could have hurt ND. This is a win all around.

    5. Vairish84 says:

      I like the overseas games. Perhaps a big opponent, Alabama, etc. We could open the season with it, perhaps a week early so there is an extra bye to readjust. I would imagine for an ND-Bama game we could get the necessary NCAA waivers.

    6. This scheduling makes me wonder what Notre Dame thinks of itself as a football school. ND is not an east coast school and this ACC tie makes it appear as if it is. ND is a midwest school and you’d hardly know it from the new schedules. As someone who lives west of the Rockies and loves the national schedules, I am particularly disappointed with the whittling down of PAC opponents and the elimination of the ASU game in South Bend. The SEC is very tough now but for decades the PAC was the best football conference and I hate to see us lose the chance to play other PAC teams, as we have over the years. I don’t mind trying new stuff — I attended the Miami game at Soldier Field and loved it and Chicago — but not at the expense of identity. I’d love to play FSU and Miami regularly, but a regular dose of Duke, NC State, UVA, Clemson? No thanks. We’re not a southern school either. At least we didn’t used to be.

      • I have to disagree. While Notre Dame is in the Midwest, I would argue that it is a national school. There are alumni and followers all over the country, and abroad. Their nickname was orignally the Ramblers, because they traveled all over the country. Rockne was the one that started the California trips. I think it’s great that Notre Dame can travel all over the country, and sell out.

    7. There’s a lot of ingredients to chew on here, so most fans are probably gonna find 1 or 2 bones to pick, and it’ll be different things for different people. My 2 cents:

      I think “playing our family” is a non-story. The way I interpreted this was that Notre Dame, just like every other popular program, is going to have at least 1 “buy” game every year vs a bodybag opponent. So how do you decide which opponent to choose? In this case we picked some arbitrary reason other than money. Okay, big deal. Before they decided to choose UMass and Nevada based on some arbitrary reason, they were choosing Rice for no apparent reason. I didn’t get the impression that the “playing our family” criteria was intended for anything other than one-off buy games.

      It could also be that “playing our family” is really more about “negotiating with our family”. From a practical standpoint, negotiating the terms of these games is probably a PITA so maybe it’s more about doing business with someone who is more likely to accomodate ND’s desired terms. By the time the game is actually played, they probably don’t really care who the coach is.

      I agree that they should rotate Pac 12 opponents other than USC. But I’m not sure I’m following the theory that the Pac 12 is limiting ND to 2 games. How would that explain the midseason games vs ASU in 2013 and 2014, and ASU’s insistence that the 2014 game not be cancelled?

      Count me among the people who like the Shamrock Series. Even when they don’t get a decent opponent like Miami or ASU, it creates a buzz in sense of “where are they gonna play this year?” – kind of like a midseason bowl game in a way. It allows a larger quantity of tickets for fans who live in other parts of the country to watch an ND game without getting raked over the coals by the opponent’s opportunistic ticket pricing (the scarcity of tickets at Fenway Park will be an exception). And most important of all, the team has played great. I think they’ve beaten the point spread by a wide margin in all 5 games. The thing I like about the game at Fenway is that since ND controls the majority of the tickets, and with ND fans likely to outspend BC fans in the secondary markets, it will be rich to see the BC fans drowned out in their own home town.

    8. I’m proud of my fellow-Domesters. (ND-fans) Truth be told, I haven’t spent much time reading feedback from us Domesters b/c I’ve wanted to just wait until the schedule is a fait-accompli and then evaluate it for myself. That being said, I have not (of course, by intention) remained privy to the manifold options as they relate to agendas, etc. But THAT being said, I would gladly acknowledge my depth-deficiency of evaluation. So finally, (drum-roll) what do I think?

      Swarbrick for President.

      Jack deserves all the accolades in the world for wrestling with his/NotaDame’s (I’m a Bostonian) ambitions along with the manifold other factors and producing a GOLD-STANDARD of a schedule.
      Kudos, Jack.

    9. I really don’t think playing “family” is a priority. There are a lot of obstacles, and there are going to be a few dogs out there. There are very few teams left that won’t play FCS teams, and even the MAC is an extreme rarity for ND, but the MAC is going to happen once in a while. When they do, they are going to try to spin those games and try to find a hook however they can. I don’t disagree about the Stanford thing, it just seems like a safe choice for them.

    10. It all makes sense except for scheduling the SEC. Save them for the bowl game because it’s impossible to know in advance when one of their teams is going to be on probation.

    11. I’m not too worried about Stanford declining. Five straight years of Top 10, under two different coaches. They seem to have figured it out. As with any program, they could blunder into mediocrity again, but they have a lot going for them — academic prestige, weather, strong overall sports teams, and now a history (for young people whose attention span is as long as a tweet).

    12. irishhawk50 says:

      I think most of us would have preferred ND to be a true independent and keep a more diverse schedule, but the reality of the “super conferences” and their limiting schedules forced Jack’s hand. I think he made a necessary decision with the ACC compromise.

      I know that no one will ever listen to anything we say, but my wish list would include rotating the service academies (I know the history with Navy, but…). I would like to open with a lower tier team each year to give the team a “warm-up” game. I would like to keep Michigan with at least a home and home every few years and a mix of Big 10 thrown in (think they did the right thing cutting back some Purdue games). Don’t think the BYU series brings much to the table. Not too sold on Stanford forever and wouldn’t mind assorted PAC teams in the mix. Would like a home and home with SEC. Agree with the critcs of UMass (at least open with them). Don’t like the trend towards night games, but most are away games beyond control and most of all shoot anyone who talks of Thursday night games. Go Irish!

    13. irishhawk50 says:


      Maybe shouldn’t have used the word shoot in this day and age maybe choke would be better.