Monday, July 30, 2007

Credit Where It's Due

Kevin White's been taking a beating on this blog recently, so fairness dictates he receive the praise due him when so warranted. And now so warrants.

ND announced a 20-year contract extension to ND's football series with the University of Michigan, which means ND and the Wolverines will meet on the gridiron uninterrupted through 2031. According to folks on campus, one of the prime movers in this deal is telling folks that not only will the regular home-and-home schedule continue (meaning White did not acquiesce to Bill Martin's request to switch the order), this deal does not replace the reported series with Oklahoma that will take place in 2012-13.

With all the commentary about 7-4-1 and barnstorming coming out the Joyce Center in the last month, this is a breath of fresh air. This ensures ND will have at least one marquee opponent at home each season and will have at least two overall each year. It also shows a willingness to go beyond the two, although how that will jive with the other announced plans (three Big East squads, Integer responsibilities, 7-4-1) remains to be seen.

As it stands right now, this is a Good Thing, and when people do Good Things, they deserve a pat on the back. So this is mine. Excellent job, Kevin. Keep it up.

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How About A Little Fire, Scarecrow?

I can't believe I spent an hour over the weekend putting together my strawman list and still forgot the most galling of them all:

ND's recruiting is improving ... they must have lowered their academic standards

[smacking head on keyboard repeatedly]

This is probably one of the biggest canards in the ND universe -- that the Fighting Irish lower their academic standards when they want to get good and then raise them again when they get nervous about becoming a football factory.

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I'm willing to assume there is always an inverse correlation between the academic achievement of high school juniors and seniors and their athletic ability, even though it's something I don't necessarily believe to be true.

The measure of admissions standards seems to be set by the average GPA and standardized test scores of the athletes ND admits. When those scores go up, the theory goes, ND has tightened the noose on its coach in an effort to reclaim some kind of accountability for classroom performance. When those scores go down, ND has realized they need to admit the quality athletes to succeed.

That all sounds great in theory. The problem is, it only measures the student athletes who accept a scholarship offer to Notre Dame, not the full range of student athletes who were offered a scholarship, and it's the offer range that truly determines what Notre Dame's "admissions standards" are.

Players want to go where they believe they will succeed in the areas they deem important. They want to play in the pros, and they want to make sure during their college careers they get the proper instruction and exposure that will maximize the chances they'll end up there. Therefore, they're going to be attracted to and sign with strong programs.

When Notre Dame is perceived as strong, they're going to sign good athletes. If you believe my assumption above that the good athletes are going to bring correspondingly low academic scores, the overall ratings will go down. When Notre Dame is perceived as weak or otherwise non-optimal, they're not going to sign good athletes. Once again, if the assumption is true, the overall ratings will go up. It has nothing to do with what Notre Dame has intended, but rather what they have achieved, which is not the same thing and not subject to the criteria being evaluated.

The current mantra is that ND somehow loosened the strings for Charlie Weis, and that's why he's pulling in top classes. The reality, however, if you talk to recruiting gurus, is ND bent over backwards to accommodate Bob Davie, and bent even further for Tyrone Willingham.

Remember that for the most part, student athletes cannot be offered a scholarship without the approval of admissions, and over the past 10 years there have been more than a few "question marks" that got (or accepted) offers to come to ND. The difference is, a lot of them didn't accept that offer, so their scores are not factored in to the data for their recruiting class.

Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham were allowed to make plenty of offers to blue-chip athletes who still had academic issues to overcome. Aldo de la Garza went so far as to sign a letter of intent for Davie's squad, but never made it to campus after Clearinghouse issues. Justin Forsett and Jonathan Stewart were not what you'd call academic hotshots in high school, yet Willingham was permitted to pursue them and make the offer to them.

And academics didn't have anything to do with some of the other problems. Reggie Bush, who had his academic house in order, chose Southern Cal over the Irish, which had nothing to do with academic standards and everything to do with ND not being an attractive program under Willingham's leadership. Think TW's ND record would have been better with Bush in the backfield? Can't blame that one on admissions.

Does this mean ND never tightens the academic reins? Of course not, because they have in the past. But they usually do it more to affect the viability of a coach than to make some kind of overall statement. ND has goosed the standards up to push Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz, and Digger Phelps out the door when firing them or otherwise terminating their contracts might have drawn hue and cry from the alumni and fanbase. But I don't believe they've ever done so to quiet complaints about being a football factory, because the only people who make those complaints are (or at least should be) irrelevant when it comes to ND charting its overall course.

As long as a coach keeps lines of communication open with the admissions office, he (or she) should have no issues with recruiting. When you keep those lines open, as Weis has, you benefit. When you don't keep those lines open, as Willingham didn't and Davie did haphazardly, you don't.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Burning Down the Strawmen

Some folks have expressed frustration at the repetitive nature of Rock's House these days. Way too much Kevin White bashing, they say. You've made your point, isn't it time to move on to something more interesting?

All other things equal, I'd be inclined to agree. There's only so much talking one can do on any topic, and it's certainly possible the discussions regarding our Athletic Director have reached critical mass, meaning it's time to either talk about something else or stop talking and take some action. And that's certainly being mulled over.

But last night, I got a lesson in why we need to keep these topics on the front burner when I attended the annual NDNation White Sox outing. Along with the camaraderie and good time had by all, I had a very sobering conversation with one of our regular posters.

He informed me at his place of business is an ND alum who spends a lot of time trying to convince him and the rest of the Subway Alumni there that "those guys are just Internet crazies. They don't know what they're talking about. Things at ND are going just fine; they're just looking for a reason to bitch."

This is the kind of thing we're fighting against. This is the complacency or downright state of denial in which some of these folks live, and they're spreading that condition to people who consider them to be experts merely because they're in possession of a South Bend sheepskin. This is why we have to keep up the fight and keep these topics out there and keep people talking about them.

So in the interest of eliminating some of the hurdles in our path, allow me to burn down a couple of strawmen that this guy (and others) tend to erect when talking about our ilk and our position:

Everything Kevin White / the ND administration does is wrong. Untrue. Notre Dame is like any organization of its size. In the sheer volume of decisions and policies made or set in any given day, some of them will be good and some of them will be poor.

But just as not every decision will be a poor one, not every decision will be a good one either. And when a number of poor decisions seem to be emanating from the same source, logic dictates the suitability of that source be examined. Past targets of this scrutiny have shown themselves to be worthy of it, so don't be quick to dismiss criticisms as being some sort of smear campaign. We have lives, and lack the time to waste on such things. When we analyze problems (such as ND's business dealings with Adidas and the procedures used to hire and fire coaches), we analyze the actual data.

A lot of people love Notre Dame, and the natural feeling for most people is not to criticize things they love to avoid a sense of somehow "devaluing" that thing. People of intelligence should be able to do both and know that it's not to be done frivolously. Those with children have (hopefully) done it all their adult lives.

They won't be satisfied unless ND is playing five top-ten teams every year. Again, patently false. Last week, I did a scheduling analysis that I believe represents, overall, the wishes of the Ilk. That schedule follows a 4-4-4 model: four games against top-tier teams to challenge what should be a talented, well-coached Notre Dame football team (e.g. SC, Michigan, Alabama); four games against what should be token opposition given the schools' comparative abilities to attract coaches and talent (e.g. Duke, Stanford), and four games against traditional "mid-range" schools that, while they should be capable of giving ND a decent game, more often than not will come out on the losing end (e.g. Purdue, Michigan State, Pitt).

A Notre Dame football program operating at its top efficiency should have no problems with a schedule like that. It ensures at least one or two enticing football matchups in South Bend every year, and also ensures any ND team that participates in quality postseason play is not only tempered and ready for that ultimate challenge but has also truly earned the right to be there.

No one is saying the schedule has to be littered with the Top 10 and no other game will do. They're saying limiting ND's quality opponents to two a year, which is what the current plan calls for, is both ill-conceived from a preparation perspective and unbecoming to what Notre Dame has done on the field for more than a century.

To say that ND has to schedule more patsys so they can be assured of winning more games and getting to the BCS championship is unacceptable to me. I don't care if other schools are allegedly doing it, because I believe those schools are going to be looking at a backlash in the near future. Ask Ohio State season ticket holders how they feel about spending top dollar to watch this year's non-conference slate of Youngstown State, Akron, and Kent State. Some of them are quite displeased. I'm also not convinced other schools are doing it, as ShermanOaksND's analysis shows.

There's more to Notre Dame athletics than football, you know. Earth to Farmer Bob, come in Bob. This is the ND Basketball Guy talking. I'm quite well aware there's more to ND athletics than football. That's why Cross and I get into it all the time about his "AD of football" idea (which I still don't advocate).

But let's also remember that football is the straw that stirs the drink. That means it requires special attention to ensure it continues to produce the golden eggs that keep a lot of the other sports going. That doesn't mean trying to wring every dollar out of every orifice, but it does mean accommodating football where it reasonably requires it.

Besides, I have yet to see evidence that any of the recent non-football athletic successes at ND are in any way attributable to the current administration. Women's soccer and women's basketball have won titles, but their coaches' tenures predates Kevin White's arrival on campus. The policy of full scholarship funding was originally Dick Rosenthal's idea, and the implementation of that policy began with him and continued with Mike Wadsworth.

What's wrong with a Jumbotron that will show replays and honor special guests?

(yes, I used the dreaded J-word)

Nothing. Except that kind of 'tron doesn't exist.

Screens of that nature cost tens of millions of dollars to build and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to maintain. Is that money going to fall from the sky? Of course not, which means any screen in Notre Dame Stadium will require advertising or other sponsorship money to run.

It's also not going to show any replays of the things the crowd would really want to see. Controversial plays or anything else that might make the referees look bad will not be shown. They're not shown at any other venue, so it's not likely they'll be shown at ND. Think you would have seen the Bush Push in 2005? Think again.

ND football is a unique experience, with the band, cheerleaders, student section, and crowd all contributing to an atmosphere unmatched in college sports. Why distract and detract from that atmosphere with cheesy graphics, TV spots, and Loud Continuous Noise?

There's no evidence that [insert topic here] is in any danger of happening. Not always publicly, no. You can sometimes get a warning bell or two from public comments folks in South Bend make.

But we're fortunate to have people on campus who are on our side. Those people work in myriad departments, including Athletics. They're appalled at some of the things being discussed, and irritated at the ineptitude they observe. Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves have a lot of hot potatoes in their laps, with four Dean positions to fill and having just finished a search for a new assistant Provost. They can't always be watching this sort of stuff, so we're happy to watch it for them. Does that make us arrogant? Maybe, but it's a fault we'll all cop to gladly.

That's the usual suspects all lined up in a row. I may revisit the topic if I think of more, and I've no doubt our loyal comment-makers will remind me of any I missed.

Edit: And sure enough, I missed the biggest one, which I've discussed here.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

When's Gonna Be My Time??

I don't usually quote Kevin Smith movies in the blog, but the title seemed apropos given the headaches of the last couple of weeks. Again and again, evidence of bad planning simply floods out of the Joyce Center and demands the above question regarding how much patience Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves are willing to show with Kevin White's "leadership" in the Athletic Department.

Scott covered the business end of things well, and if you haven't read that missive, you should. ND is tripping all over its collective cranks with these contracts, and as Scott said, the fact that ND is allowing Adidas to dictate any kind of uniform policy while not protecting ND's position in the Adidas hierarchy is an embarrassment. Coupled with the bad contracts for O'Leary and Willingham, the poor BCS negotiations, the lack of ground-breaking for the Joyce Center, and public comment mis-speaks, ND seems to have lost whatever business sense it had and is running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

But there's also buffoonery on the logistics side. Info on scheduling contracts is coming out bit by bit, and it's not giving anyone the warm fuzzies.

First, we have Wazzu on the Riverwalk. Exactly whom this matchup is supposed to excite I don't know, because I have yet to talk to anyone either in real life or on NDN who is thrilled by it. Washington State is a decent enough team -- tier 2 at this point, leaning towards 3 -- but I fail to see why having the game in the middle of south Texas, where neither team has a strong following, is in any way logical. I have yet to be presented with a reason why I should attend this game in lieu of any actual road games and/or a bowl game, and I suspect I'll never get it.

Quick on its heels, it's the Baptist Battle in Arlington. Apparently ND will return to the Lone Star State in 2012 to take on the mighty Baylor Bears. At least this time the opponent makes sense and is actually located in the state in which the game is being played, allowing a level of logic the previous matchup lacked. However, I still fail to see why I should feel compelled to attend this game, and I know a decent number of people in Dallas, including my ND roommate.

But then, a potential light at the end of the tunnel: The Sooners are Coming!!. ND and Oklahoma apparently have finalized their deal, with games in 2012 in Norman and 2013 in South Bend. Granted, it would be better if Oklahoma supplemented Michigan on the schedule rather than replacing them, but this is a good thing, right?

Maybe not. If the games are set up as the NewsOK article says, this is what the 2012 schedule will look like so far:

Navy (@ Dublin)
Baylor (@ Dallas)
@ Oklahoma
@ Southern Cal
@ Rutgers (probably the Meadowlands)

Never mind that ND is already traveling as far as Dublin that season, already playing a game in Dallas, and looking for a quality home game with SC on the road. They're going to go to Norman, too. Where's the logic in that? It would have made much much more sense to start the series in South Bend, which would provide a good anchor for the home schedule. But of course, that's not what we're doing. Do they expect me to shell out $1,500 for Sorin Society membership for the privilege of seeing Purdue? Not gonna happen.

But what's more disturbing is the groundwork this possibly lays. The biggest bone of contention with Michigan right now is they want ND to change the home-home rotation around so they'll have ND at home one year and Ohio State home the next. Of course, if ND does that, it'll put Michigan on the same rotation as Southern Cal, giving ND the problem Michigan now has. So the logical response to Bill Martin and the rest of his skunkweasels is to work it out with the Integer and move the Ohio State game if they want to continue playing us.

But now we have this Oklahoma setup, putting that big game and SC on the same rotation. What are the chances when we hear that ND and Michigan have re-upped following their two-year hiatus, that new contract is going to start in Ann Arbor, thereby continuing the odd-year rotation? That would mean that Michigan, a school that has done more to try and undermine ND in the past century than any other program, and whose AD embarrassed us with the publication of their Adidas contract details, actually got major concessions from ND in scheduling.

How long, Lord? How long will we have to put up with this never-ending parade of ineptitude? What is it going to take to make Fr. Jenkins and John Affleck-Graves and the Board of Trustees to see the light, and when that final back-breaking mistake is made, how much is it going to cost Notre Dame in money, time and prestige to fix?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Art of Scheduling

We've been hearing a lot about how there's no room at the inn for the Alabamas of the world. That disturbs me, and based on what I'm reading on Rock's House, it disturbs you as well. So since I have too much time on my hands and my medicine keeps me awake, I took it upon myself to try and do Kevin White's job for the next couple of years.

Granted, I'm assuming all these contracts are doable. But given how "everyone is calling us", according to John Heisler, I'd like to think it could be done with little trouble.

I used these guidelines:
  • No more than seven home games in a given year.
  • A minimum of five road games in a given year if the team had seven at home, four if the team had six at home.
  • USC and Navy every year
  • Three Big East teams every year, but not starting right away
  • BCS conferences and Service Academies only, except where already signed
I tried to keep it as close as I could to a four-four-four philosophy, but no fewer than three tier-1 opponents and no more than four tier44 opponents.

I started with the contracts and dates as far as I know ND has without "buying out" anything. I did assume, however, the teams in question wouldn't be tied into specific dates and would, given incentive, be willing to move. These are all per Mike-ND's schedule page:

Purdue, SC and Navy through 2016
Michigan and Michigan State through 2011
Stanford through 2010
Washington 2009
Arizona State 2013/14
Pitt 2008 through 2015
Rutgers 2010-2016
Oklahoma 2013 and 2015
BYU 2010-2013
Nevada in 2009
BC through 2010


I already had five tier-2 opponents scheduled. Since one of the three tier-3s was Nevada, I decided to add a fourth tier-1 rather than a fourth tier-3, which meant I needed one home and one road tier-1 opponent. Since I needed two tier-1s for the 2010 season anyway, that would work out well. The trouble was spacing. I had Michigan up front, as usual, but SC wasn't until October 17th. Although I could go to December 5th if I wanted, most top-flight opponents would be locked into a potential conference championship game on that weekend.

My first call was to Knoxville, and since the Vols are always looking for opportunities to play us, we agreed we'd play in Knoxville on October 31st. I put the bye week on October 24th, and while that's a pretty time of year in SB, I felt we needed the week off between two kick-ass opponents. I put Navy in the November 7th slot. I didn't want to put BC in the October 10th position, since that would make it a trap game. So I called Washington, and offered them an additional home-and-home in 2018 and 2020 if they would be willing to move their game to the 10th. They agreed, and BC moved in to the slot on the 3rd.

Now I needed my tier-1 for November 21st. Trouble is, a lot of top teams are usually playing "rivalry games" that weekend. But the Big XII usually has their big games on or around Thanksgiving, so I made a quick call to Lincoln. The Huskers were very willing to get on the slate.

S05 Nevada (3)
S12 @ Michigan (1)
S19 Michigan State (2)
S26 @ Purdue (2)
O03 BC (2)
O10 Washington (2)
O17 Southern Cal (1)
O24 off week
O31 @ Tennessee (1)
N07 Navy (3)
N14 @ Pittsburgh (2)
N21 Nebraska (1)
N28 @ Stanford (3)

tiers: 4-5-3
location: 7-5-0
1 MW, 3 B10, 1 ACC, 3 Pac10, 1 SEC, 1 IND, 1 BE, 1 BigXII


The good news was thanks to my setup for 2009, I had the proper tier balance and home/road balance all set. All I had to do now was arrange them as intelligently as I could. I called West Lafayette and told them I wanted to move the game to September 25th, and they had no problem with that. That enabled me to put Rutgers on the 4th and Michigan on the 11th. So far so good.

We'd traditionally played Tennessee in November, so the 6th seemed like a good date. That meant we'd be going to Nebraska in October, and the 16th looked like it would give us good spacing. I put the bye on October 30th and the trip to BC on October 2nd. Stanford would come to town on the 23rd, and BYU on November 20th -- a dreaded blah-opponent-bad-weather game, but it had to go somewhere. That left the Navy game at the Meadowlands on the 13th.

S04 Rutgers (3)
S11 Michigan (1)
S18 @ Michigan State (2)
S25 Purdue (2)
O02 @ BC (2)
O09 Pittsburgh (2)
O16 @ Nebraska (1)
O23 Stanford (3)
O30 off week
N06 Tennessee (1)
N13 vs. Navy (Meadowlands) (3)
N20 BYU (3)
N27 @ Southern Cal (1)

tiers: 4-4-4
location: 7-4-1
2 BE, 3 B10, 1 ACC, 1 BigXII, 2 Pac10, 1 SEC, 1 IND, 1 MW


Now I had some flexibility. I only had eight games scheduled, and to get to my 4-4-4 model, I needed two tier-1s (home-away split), a tier-2, and a tier-3. It was time to get that third BE team on the schedule, so I signed a four-year home-and-home contract with West Virginia, and since my tier-2s were already on a 1-2 home-road split, I started the contract in South Bend.

Stanford was off the schedule, and I was in no rush to pick them up again. This created an end-of-year opening, which I hoped I could use for an attractive road game. But again, a lot of the premier teams would be tied up with conference championships.

Time to slot. SC is almost always the third Saturday in October when we're in SB, but I wanted a better flow, so they went on the 22nd. Rutgers was a good opening warmup; they went to September 3rd. Michigan and MSU went in their usual slots. This gave me a prime slot on October 1st for a tier-1 home game. I first thought of Texas, but with Oklahoma coming on the schedule in 2013, I wanted some more variety. We already had three Integer games, so Ohio State was out. So with Nick Saban running his mouth, I figured I'd give him what he wanted -- a home-and-home between the Fighting Irish and the Crimison Tide. BYU on the 8th and Purdue on the 15th gave us a nice run-up to Southern Cal, and the top part of the schedule was set.

Now for the bottom half, and back to my tier-1 list for a team possibly looking for a late-season home game. Late November on the road? I was thinking warm. I was thinking quality. I was thinking Hurricanes, who, seeing a chance to grab some attention from Florida/FSU that day, agreed to play on the 26th in Dolphin Stadium.

This, however, left me looking for a home game on November 12th or 19th. Even though I only had three tier-4 teams on the schedule, there was no way I was going to create a crap game in South Bend in November. So I went off the usual beaten path and invited Clemson. Granted, this put two home games during the crappy weather, but I was hoping the fact they were interesting opponents would put butts in the seats.

S03 Rutgers (3)
S10 @ Michigan (1)
S17 Michigan State (2)
S24 @ Pittsburgh (2)
O01 Alabama (1)
O08 @ BYU (3)
O15 @ Purdue (2)
O22 Southern Cal (1)
O29 Navy (3)
N05 off week
N12 Clemson (2)
N19 WVU (2)
N26 @ Miami (1)

tiers: 4-5-3
location: 7-5-0
3 BE, 3 B10, 1 SEC, 1 MW, 1 Pac10, 1 IND, 2 ACC


No crashes yet. Now I had even more flexibility, because Michigan and Michigan State had rolled off. I let the Wolverines go play with themselves, and told MSU we'd be taking a three-year break and sometimes interspersing them with other Integer teams. They were amenable.

I only needed two games this year, one of which would be a tier-1. But flow would be a major concern. With the Navy game in Dublin to start the year, I put the off week on September 8th to avoid any jet lag issues. With Navy and an off week to start, I needed a home powerhouse. Miami was due to come to South Bend, but I figured I'd go with a new face. With Oklahoma coming on the schedule the next year, the Big XII was out, so I went back to the SEC and a team that had expressed interest in a game, Georgia.

Now we were cooking. Pitt was already scheduled for the 22nd, so I wanted to go on the road the next week. Rutgers at the Meadowlands fit the bill, and since I'd heard October in West Virginia was very pretty, their trip came up next. October 13th is prime fall color season in South Bend, so what would be better than a home contest with the Hurricanes? Purdue and BYU following them up gave us a nice little homestand during the good-weather time.

Now November was on the screen. To keep the proper spacing, we gave Bama their return game on November 3rd. I put Clemson off a year for their return game and invited Cal for a home-and-home. With the trip to SC looming and the lack of an off week virtually all season, I dipped into the tier-3 bucket and brought Army in for a one-off home game.

S01 vs. Navy (Dublin) (3)
S08 off week
S15 Georgia (1)
S22 Pittsburgh (2)
S29 vs. Rutgers (Meadowlands) (3)
O06 @ WVU (2)
O13 Miami (1)
O20 BYU (3)
O27 Purdue (2)
N03 @ Alabama (1)
N10 Cal (2)
N17 Army (3)
N24 @ Southern Cal (1)

tiers: 4-4-4
location: 7-3-2
2 IND, 2 SEC, 3 BE, 1 ACC, 1 MW, 1 B10, 2 Pac10


Arizona State and Oklahoma were coming on board. Mike-ND's site didn't mention where the Oklahoma series would start, so that gave me some wiggle room. But I had current contracts going for 12 teams -- a 3-6-3 tier split, and a 2-1 home/road split for the tier-1s (6-6 overall), assuming I started Oklahoma in South Bend. The calendar was my friend -- I could go as early as August 31st and as late as November 30th for games, giving me two bye weeks if I wanted them.

Started with the easy ones. Rutgers was home, so they went on the 31st. Since I wanted to follow up with a powerhouse, Oklahoma would come to town the next week. Road trips to Purdue and BYU followed. WVU at home, following by the scheduled date vs. ASU and an off week, and our first half was set.

Cal was an obvious choice for the end-of-year trip, and we'd go to Georgia on November 16th, but I didn't want the end of the year to be too road-heavy. So I put Clemson off one more year. With a second off week on November 23rd, I needed an opponent for November 2nd. So I signed Vanderbilt to a two-for-one.

A31 Rutgers (3)
S07 Oklahoma (1)
S14 @ Purdue (2)
S21 @ BYU (3)
S28 WVU (2)
O05 Arizona State (2)
O12 off week
O19 Southern Cal (1)
O26 Navy (3)
N02 Vanderbilt (3)
N09 @ Pittsburgh (2)
N16 @ Georgia (1)
N23 off week
N30 @ Cal (2)

tiers: 3-5-4
location: 6-5-0
3 BE, 1 BigXII, 1 B10, 1 MW, 3 Pac10, 1 IND, 2 SEC


This was shaping up as a year I could clear some of the remaining contracts and start some new ones. Since we were already playing Rutgers on the east coast, the Navy agreed to play in San Diego, which I scheduled for November 15th. We'd open with Rutgers in the Meadowlands. I put Purdue on the 20th, and our long-owed trip to Clemson on the 27th. We'd close out the West Virginia contract in Morgantown on the 11th.

The problem here, though, was I already had six road or neutral-site games, and I still needed at least three tier-1 teams to get back to the 4-4-4 model. September 13th was begging for a quality game, so I got on the phone to Madison and signed up Wisconsin. October 4th was another prime candidate, and Texas would come calling. Finally on November 1st, we'd get Florida State. All three would involve at least one home and one road game, with possibly a neutral-site game mixed in.

S06 @ Rutgers (Meadowlands) (3)
S13 Wisconsin (1)
S20 Purdue (2)
S27 @ Clemson (2)
O04 Texas (1)
O11 Vanderbilt (3)
O18 @ WVU (2)
O25 @ Arizona State (2)
N01 Florida State (1)
N08 Pittsburgh (2)
N15 @ Navy (San Diego) (3)
N22 off week
N29 @ Southern Cal (1)

tiers: 4-5-3
location: 6-4-2
3 BE, 2 B10, 2 ACC, 1 BigXII, 1 SEC, 2 Pac10, 1 IND


Now I had some contracts I had to start filling. Oklahoma was already set for 2015, so I couldn't move that, and I had to give one other of my tier-1s their return game. I decided to make it Wisconsin since we already had Oklahoma on the slate representing the BigXII powers. I also needed another tier-1 for a late-season contest at home, and I had my age-old find-someone-for-the-last-game problem. In what is perhaps a deus-ex-machina solution, I convinced FSU to move their game with Florida up a week and host us on the 28th. I was short a tier-2 for home games, and I was short a BE team, so Louisville got a four-year home-and-home. The tier-3 I rounded out with a two-for-one against Kansas.

S05 Rutgers (3)
S12 @ Oklahoma (1)
S19 Michigan State (2)
S26 @ Purdue (2)
O03 @ Wisconsin (1)
O10 Kansas (3)
O17 @ Vanderbilt (3)
O24 Southern Cal (1)
O31 Navy (3)
N07 off
N14 @ Pittsburgh (2)
N21 Louisville (2)
N28 @ Florida State (1)

tiers: 4-3-2
l: 4-6-0
3 BE, 2 BigXII, 3 B10, 1 SEC, 1 Pac10, 1 IND, 1 ACC


2016 was setting up nicely -- I had six road/neutral games under contract with two of each tier. Now I needed corresponding home games. Rutgers was at the Meadowlands, as usual, so I needed a more exotic setting for Navy. They agreed to play in Jacksonville.

With the game at Texas, I had all my tier-1 contracts fulfilled, so it was time for two new ones. I looked over the list and figured it was time to get Penn State back on the schedule. UCLA hadn't been on board in a while, so they made a mid-October trip.

I was a Big East team short, and while I knew I still had one more Rutgers game, the timing was good for the USF home-and-home, so that started this year. That left me with one home games with a tier-2 to round it off, so dipped into the SEC and found Arkansas.

S03 vs. Rutgers (Meadowlands) (3)
S10 Penn State (1)
S17 Purdue (2)
S24 @ Michigan State (2)
O01 @ Texas (1)
O08 South Florida (3)
O15 @ Louisville (2)
O22 UCLA (1)
O29 week off
N05 vs. Navy (Jacksonville) (3)
N12 Kansas (3)
N19 Arkansas (2)
N26 @ Southern Cal (1)

tier: 4-4-4
location: 6-4-2
3 BE, 3 B10, 1 BigXII, 2 Pac10, 1 Ind, 1 SEC


Purdue's contract was up, so I gave them a two-year break to rotate in Iowa. Filling out the existing contracts, I had a pretty good mix. With Rutgers off, I needed a third BE team, so UConn got their home-and-neutral starting in Gillette Stadium.

That left me searching for home games against a tier-2 and a tier-1. We didn't have anyone in the ACC, so Virginia got a home-and-home for now and 2019. The SEC needed representation, so LSU got the same.

S02 @ Kansas (3)
S09 LSU (1)
S16 Virginia (2)
S23 Iowa (2)
S30 @ UCLA (1)
O07 week off
O17 @ UConn (Gillette) (3)
O21 Southern Cal (1)
O28 Michigan State (2)
N04 Navy (3)
N11 Louisville (2)
N18 @ Penn State (1)
N25 vs. USF (Citrus Bowl) (3)

tier: 4-4-4
location: 7-4-1
3 BE, 3 B10, 2 Pac10, 1 BigXII, 1 Ind, 1 ACC, 1 SEC


Once again, I had all my road games set, so I needed a bunch of home games -- two 1s, two 2s, and a 3. Again, I was a BE team short, so Cincinnati got their shot as the home 3. It had been a while since Miami had appeared, and I was going to need a warm-weather closer next year, so they signed up for a two-year deal. Ohio State was another tier-1 that hadn't appeared yet, so they would be coming to town on the 29th. With no BigXII and lower Pac10 representation, I got two of their tier-2s for home games in Colorado and Washington, who I owed anyway.

S01 UConn (3)
S08 @ LSU (1)
S15 Colorado (2)
S22 @ Iowa (2)
S29 Ohio State (1)
O06 Cincinnati (3)
O13 @ Louisville (2)
O20 @ Michigan State (2)
O27 Miami (1)
N03 week off
N10 vs. Navy (Meadowlands) (3)
N17 Washington (2)
N24 @ Southern Cal (1)

tier: 4-5-3
location: 6-5-1
3 BE, 1 SEC, 3 B10, 1 IND, 2 Pac10, 1 ACC, 1 BigXII


The Louisville contract was up, but with the addition of Syracuse replacing UConn, I had officially rotated through all the BE teams, meaning I could sign Pittsburgh to another 10-year home-and-home. Purdue came back after the Iowa interlude, but I chose to swap out Michigan State for two years in favor of Minnesota. Alabama and Nebraska were my new tier-1s.

Edit: And it seems I went a little overboard, forgetting to put the second off week in there and playing five tier-1 teams. So I took Alabama out and replaced it with a week off.

A31 Syracuse (3)
S07 @ Ohio State (1)
S14 Purdue (2)
S21 @ Virginia (2)
S28 off week
O05 Minnesota (2)
O12 @ Colorado (2)
O19 Southern Cal (1)
O26 off week
N02 Navy (3)
N09 Nebraska (1)
N16 @ Cincinnati (3)
N23 Pittsburgh (2)
N30 @ Miami (1)

tier: 4-5-3
location: 7-5-0
3 BE, 3 B10, 2 ACC, 2 BigXII, 1 Pac10, 1 IND

That's 11 seasons worth of games. Once I got going, I were able to accommodate the 4-4-4 model plus play three Big East teams every year. Granted, I've accumulated a couple of road IOUs here -- in 2020, SC and Navy and Purdue will be on the road, plus we'll owe Syracuse, Minnesota, Arkansas, Washington, Pitt and Nebraska return games. But I had big IOUs along this road before, and I always was able to pay them out with the occasional six-home-game season and by spacing things out carefully.

Provided the ridiculous 7-4-1 model is abandoned and ND is willing to show some flexibility, I think it can be done. And it should be done.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Timing is Everything

The Big East has finally released the planned conference slate for 2007-08. I was starting to think the expanded 18-game schedule had somehow flummoxed them, as this info is usually in front of folks sometime in June. But better late than never, I always say, and an important part of the scheduling puzzle is finally available to us.

ND's two-fer opponents will be Connecticut, DePaul, and Marquette, three teams that should be very attractive to ND basketball fans. Filling out the home and away schedules:

  • Cincinnati
  • Pittsburgh
  • Providence
  • St. John's
  • Syracuse
  • West Virginia

  • Georgetown
  • Louisville
  • Rutgers
  • Seton Hall
  • South Florida
  • Villanova

Some thoughts, as always.

The home schedule is very attractive. Just about every team on that home slate is expected to be competitive. DePaul and Marquette are long-time rivals and we can't play them enough for my taste. UConn, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are perennial conference contenders. West Virginia means Huggy Bear will be coming to South Bend as a coach for the first time. Cincinnati is a hotbed of ND alumni. No trips to Syracuse or Morgantown for the Irish this year, which is always a good thing.

Games in strong ND areas. At Georgetown means a game in D.C., at Villanova means Philly. No SJU, but Seton Hall is close enough for NYC. The wheelhouse will be more than served this season.

This slate will help the SOS. Just about all the conference games that might be considered "duds" for strength of schedule purposes like Rutgers or USF are on the road, which helps negate their deleterious effect. There are at least three challenging road tilts in Georgetown, Louisville, and Villanova. Unlike last season, the conference slate won't drag ND's selection chances down.

ND fans probably couldn't have asked for a more beneficial schedule. It's challenging without being murderous. It provides good home contests to whet the crowd's appetites. Good road destinations like Florida, D.C. and Philly. An ND hoops fans' dream.

Or it should be, anyway. There are still some bugs that could emerge in the system.

Bad Momentum. A quality conference schedule must be matched with an OOC slate of equal quality. As I noted, the BE assignment is challenging enough to keep our interest, but is hardly one to which we should be looking with dread. The same must be true of the non-conference grouping. A parade of cupcakes with RPIs on the wrong side of 250 like we had last season just will not work.

The low quality of opponent hurt ND's attendance last year, and they need some attractive non-conference matchups to get the momentum going for the crowd once Big East time arrives. While the bad home slate gave certain constituencies an excuse to stay away last year, this year the home schedule renders such whining moot. They shouldn't give the whiners an opening with a mediocre offering out of conference.

This is a seasoned team, and while it certainly has some holes to fill, there are more than enough experienced guys to do just that. The strength is in the junior and sophomore classes now, which means the freshmen won't have to jump in and contribute right away. These guys should be able to handle a couple of shots to the jaw before conference time, and there's no reason they shouldn't get two or three, with at least one of them in a true road environment.

In addition to the hoped-for matchup with Georgia Tech in the Virgin Islands, I'd like to see Mike Brey and company put together at least one strong matchup for ND at home and one away, and try to stay away from the sugary stuff we saw last year. There's certainly room for a cupcake or two, but LIU, Northern Illinois and Colgate should mean we're full up in that department. Give me a MAC or MW opponent or two to bridge the gap to the heavy hitters.

Bad Timing. It didn't help that three of ND's eight home conference games were already in the books by the time the students returned from Christmas vacation, and it hurt even more that one of the three was the best home game, Louisville. Having more and better home options this year will help, but I hope Kevin White and Mike Brey are impressing upon the Poobahs in Providence that the Irish don't need a front-loaded schedule. I'd like to see a maximum of two home games played without a student audience, and I'd like them to make sure DePaul and Marquette are weekend games.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Possible Early Returns

With the impending release of the lottery results this week, ND also released a statement on the tix lottery yesterday.

Lots of "good news" for Irish fans, including promised increased availability for lottery participants overall, which is a good thing.

Lost in the kerfluffle of how demands for certain games ranked, however, was a brief mention of refunds:

Beginning July 16, the Notre Dame ticket office expects to mail refunds worth more than $8.6 million to unsuccessful lottery participants (the second-highest total in history, compared with refunds of $11.7 million a year ago).

On its face, this supports the theme of the release that more people got tickets than last year -- again, a good thing. But let's take a look at the math.

ND has the same number of games as last season, has the same home/away split as last season, received pretty close to (if not exactly) the same number of road game tickets as last season, and didn't add any seats to ND Stadium between last season and this.

This means, statistically speaking, the number of overall tickets available was the same in both 2006 and 2007. Assuming 5,000 seats for each road game (even though we sometimes get only 4,000) and 32,000 for each home game, that's 249,000 tickets going through this process (which I mention for the sake of completeness since the specific overall number isn't relevant to the discussion).

All of the games reached "sellout status", meaning the same number of tickets were won this season as were last. Given this equation...

[tickets won] + [tickets refunded] = total demand

...and knowing [tickets won] is the same for 2006 and 2007, one should be able to determine the overall demand change between seasons by looking at the number of tickets that were lost this season versus last. For the sake of simplicity, I'm assigning the ND home ticket price for all lost games, realizing some of the losses were for road contests that might have different prices.

$11,700,000 in refunds / $58 per ticket = 201,724 tickets in 2006

$8,600,000 in refunds / $62 per ticket = 138,710 tickets in 2007

Difference: 63,014 fewer tickets requested, a 31 percent drop from last year.

Yes, the prospects for ND football are slightly less "juicy" this season than last. There's no Brady Quinn Heisman Watch, and not a lot of people have ND in the National Championship race. So it's understandable people might not take the extra step to get to South Bend this year if there are other pressing things in their lives going on.

But I think it has a lot more to do with the compelling nature (or lack thereof) of the games in question. Instead of home contests against Michigan and Penn State, ND has three snorers in a row in November, including a glorified scrimmage against Duke. I'm anxious to see what kind of demand there was for those games, assuming the statistics are released.

The proponents of the 8-4-1 scheduling concept should take note of this precipitous fall in demand for this year. As the BGS guys so comprehensively covered it here, that model requires multiple body-bag games with teams that won't demand a return date in any contracts. In other words, plenty of Dukes, MAC squads, or other non-BCS-level competition. And as ND fans showed this season, they're not going to get their wallets out for crappy slates or non-compelling "neutral site" (in location only) contests.

I think the demand this year was rescued by grudge matches against SC and BC in South Bend, and 8-4-1 doesn't give you that every year -- heck, probably most years. If ND is going to have three or four compelling games every year, they're going to have to be willing to go on the road, just as they've always done.

Saying "we don't know how good we'll be in 2015" as justification for putting together weak slates ignores the obvious answer: keep hiring quality coaches who will recruit quality players, and ND should be just fine in 2015 and beyond, and capable of playing decent schedules.

The gravy train ain't gonna run for Duke and Ball State, that's for sure.

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