A blog and forum for all things Irish and the broader sports landscape.
July 02, 2008
What's in a tier??
As the ten people who actually read this blog are well aware, there's been a lot of consternation in recent years about the future of Notre Dame's football schedule. If you care about seeing legendary games along the lines of 1988 Notre Dame-Miami and 1993 Notre Dame-Florida State ever again in Notre Dame Stadium, you are probably as concerned as I am about the recent changes to ND's football schedules. We'll get into some other thoughts in a minute on ND's schedule, but I wanted to address this recent "tiers" discussion that has been going on the last couple weeks over on NDNation.com. As an ND fan and alum, I appreciate their efforts to bring the issues regarding ND's decision to lighten the schedule to the forefront for discussion, but I think that the recent "tiers" stuff is a classic case of overanalysis. Everyone is trotting out various models (4-4-4 vs. 3-6-3) for schedules and throwing out formulas for which teams are "tier one" programs and which teams are "upper tier two" programs and whether a team belongs in "tier two" or "tier three." While I enjoy the discussions of whether Cal is a "tier one" football program, is that really the point here?? It seems like the topic has veered off course a little bit.
For the record, I'm as hot and bothered about the proposed changes to ND's scheduling philosophy as anyone. The fact that Kevin White and John Heisler were out there openly turning down home and home matchups with Alabama and Georgia because of a prevoius commitment with UConn still bugs me to this day. The powers that be at ND have been preaching the "no new heavyweights" mantra and are demanding to play our road games in pro stadiums. If these proposed schedules are the ones that we'll be seeing for the next decade, then my interest in Notre Dame football will significantly decline. I'll still watch the games on tv, but it's going to be tough to get me excited to go up to South Bend for that proposed 2010 home schedule. Can't wait for that 5 week stretch of Army, Navy, "Buy game" (read: Duke), Rutgers, "Buy game" (read: UConn). We've basically formed the Notre Dame football conference for future opponents: Navy, Stanford, Purdue, MSU, USC, UConn, Michigan, Pitt, BC, and Army. What a league!! Ugh.
ND is a legendary program because we have always had the attitude that we will play "anyone, anywhere." Now, it is Pete Carroll and USC who are telling the world that they'll play "anyone, anytime, anywhere." Anyone who roots for ND and cares about our legacy in the college football world should be concerned about the decision of the athletic department to dumb down the schedule in the name of revenue generation and an easier path to the national championship. Kevin White's version of "anytime, anywhere" was to play Baylor in Dallas and UConn in East Rutherford. Whoopee. That's not the Notre Dame way, and fans don't want to play a soft schedule. I don't want to take the West Virginia route to get to the BCS.
NDNation has done a great job in the last year or two driving home this point, but I don't agree with the idea that we need to follow a particular formula for setting up the schedule. I'd prefer to use a different term: the smell test. Does our football schedule pass the "smell test"?? If you look at our schedule, does it look like a quality schedule?? Do other college football fans (i.e. SEC fans) respect our schedules?? I don't need categories or formulas. I just want to look at the schedule and see interesting games, big matchups, good balance, and some potentially good road trips. I'd like to see games against teams from all different conferences, and games in different regions of the country. I don't care whether Texas A&M or UCLA are tier one teams or tier two teams. Both those teams would be interesting and exciting opponents for a home and home series, and it doesn't matter to me whether they fit some predetermined quota for "tier one" teams.
Our athletic department has made a conscious effort to avoid seeking out games like the ones mentioned above, and that's the most important issue. I don't care whether we play 4 tier one teams or 3 tier one teams. The bottom line is that Notre Dame's future schedulesare not up to par with past schedules, and let's focus on doing what we can to get more quality games on the schedule.
Some other thoughts on the ND schedule while we're here:
The SEC -
Here is a list of all the SEC teams we're scheduled to play in the next ten years:
Yup, NONE. What the heck happened to SEC teams?? Why don't we schedule them anymore?? We can line up a 10 year deal with UConn but can't find some room for Alabama or Florida?? We have Nick Saban practically begging us for a game, and we're telling him that we have a "no new heavyweights" policy?? WHAT ARE WE DOING??
And to make matters worse, word has come out that Georgia asked us about a home and home series, and we asked to play the "road" game in Atlanta instead of on Georgia's campus. Are you kidding me?? It's flat out insulting for us to ask someone like Georgia to play their home game in Atlanta. Did Kevin White miss the memo that Georgia is in the top 5 this year?? Same would go for asking Texas to play their "home" game in Dallas instead of Austin. Those schools are every bit as big as us in terms of negotiating clout, so it's ridiculous to think that they wouldn't expect a home game out of the deal. It's just a terrible way to come to the negotating table. White was giving out terms that no reasonable program would agree to and then not budging on it. It's not a coincidence that Kevin White wasn't able to land big names on the future schedules when he was taking that style of negotiation. Georgia called us about a deal, and we couldn't get it done. Based upon all the other evidence of White's scheduling philosophy, I find it hard to believe that Georgia was the problem in that negotiation.
If we're not going to play the SEC, at least give me a game like Clemson or Virginia Tech or somebody like that. Or how about a lesser SEC team like South Carolina or Arkansas?? Is this so hard?? What happened to getting some big home games on the schedule?? Who the heck is going to attend these November games against UConn and Army and Baylor?? Does ND really think we're going to want to go to those games??
No New Heavyweights
It's never a good sign when your athletic director is openly telling the world that we don't want to play any more "heavyweights." For you fans of the tier system, he's talking about big games. Marquee games. Games against teams like Texas and Alabama and Florida and Auburn and Nebraska. Games that make you pump your fist when they are announced. Games that you are so excited about that you have trouble sleeping the night before the game. Those kinds of games.
I like playing USC and Michigan every year, but I'd like to add one more "big name" team to the schedule for a home and home series every year. You could usually guarantee an LSU or Tennessee type game on the schedule, or maybe someone like Florida State. It gives us a little variety, and I like taking road trips to places like Tennessee, LSU, Bama, Texas, etc. The SEC teams are playing 4-5 powerhouse teams a year, so I don't see why we can't get 3 good games on our schedule. I think we should have at least one big time SEC or big time Big 12 team (or Miami/FSU) on the schedule every year. I'm not asking for 10 top 10 teams a year. Just one. There is some clamoring for four tier one games a year, but I think four is unnecessary. If you add one big time game and make other adjustments (which we'll get to), that type of schedule would be plenty tough. We supposedly have added Oklahoma for 2012 and 2013 (no contract signed yet), so it would be nice to build on that momentum.
It's more of an attitude than anything. With USC,you know they probably would play anyone, anwhere, and at least they are trying to put together the best schedule that they can. With our AD, we have an attitude like "well we don't really want to play too many road games and we don't want too many heavyweights, so we lined up November games with Baylor and Army....enjoy!!" It just doesn't fly with me.
Road Trips What is going to be the big "road trip" for the students these days like we had with Nebraska and Tennessee and FSU and other games?? A trip to Foxboro for freaking UConn?? I'm pretty sure that won't match up to watching ND march into the home of the #1 ranked team in America with 80,000 cornfed Husker fans cheering them on. And I don't think that going to see ND-Baylor in Dallas will live up to the pandemonium of walking out of a completely silent Neyland Stadium singing the ND fight song after shocking the world in 2004.
Could you imagine being an ND student in 2008?? No SYRs, no underage bars, no tailgating, Reslife breathing down everyone's neck, now no good road trips for football games because our athletic department is afraid to schedule some good teams. Good god, I'm pretty sure I would be filling out my transfer paperwork within a few months.
Probably the three most infamous numbers these days in Notre Dame sports. After the recent NBC contract extension (which is a great thing for ND football as far as I'm concerned), it pretty much confirmed the long-rumored 7 home games-4 road games-1 neutral site game formula as our scheduling policy through 2015. NBC wants a night game, so we are giving them a night game on a neutral field (brief comment---why is ND so afraid of having a night home game?? God forbid we actually have an intimidating home environment for a change).
Honestly, I don't have a huge problem with this 7-4-1 setup in some ways, but it doesn't work with all of our other obligations. With our 3 game commitment to the Big East, the 3 "rivalry" games (USC, Navy, Michigan), and the inexplicable long term commitments to Purdue, Michigan State, and Stanford, there's no room for any other home and home matchups. If we are only playing 4 road games a year, they are already used up with those previous commitments. So if you are looking to see a home and home with Alabama or Texas or Miami, there's no room now that ND has boxed itself in with the 7-4-1 policy and all the other commitments.
The 7-4-1 can work as a model for scheduling if we need the revenue and want to keep pace with other schools who are playing 7-8 home games a year, but we need to make some changes if we're going to see the variety on our schedules that the fans want to see. One obvious solution would be to cut down or rearrange some of those long term partners. Let's address those one at a time.
Of all the schools who are permanent or semi-permanent on our schedule, the one that makes the least amount of sense is Stanford. Do you all realize that ND has played Stanford for the last 12 straight years and 19 of the last 21 years with no end in sight?? Why is Stanford a permanent fixture on our schedule?? How did this happen?? I don't get it. Unless we're talking about the greatest golfer of all-time, what is even remotely interesting about Stanford athletics??
Stanford football is just plain lousy. Other than the 2005 comeback win at Stanford, I can't think of one highly anticipated game with them in the entire history of the series, and yet we play them every single year. I don't see what they bring to the table, and I definitely don't see the need to play them every year. I know that we like to play a game out west every year and need a west coast opponent when we play USC at home, but is Stanford the only option?? Why?? It's not like there are a ton of ND alums in the Bay Area (the game at Stanford never seems to be sold out), and it's not really a hot bed for recruiting talent. Why not mix it up with some other schools and use the west coast road trip to visit some other parts of the west??
If I was in charge of scheduling, the first thing I would do is announce that the series with Stanford has been reduced from a yearly event to a rotation with other Pac 10 teams. Move Stanford into a rotation with Cal, UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon, and Washington. If we replaced Stanford with a home and home with Oregon, that would be a HUGE upgrade to the schedule alone. Adding Oregon to our home schedule would be a unique game that would generate excitement, and the return road trip out to Eugene would be entertaining. I refuse to believe all the hype about the "intimidating" atmosphere at Autzen Stadium, but I'd love to head out there to check it out and see for myself. Moving Stanford into a rotation with other Pac 10 schools is an obvious solution to the limitations of the 7-4-1. Honestly, that move alone would make our schedules much more interesting.
Purdue and Michigan State
While I do have an interest in playing Purdue and Michigan State on a regular basis, I'd like to see a couple changes in our relationship with them. Personally, I'd like to see us occasionally take Purdue and Michigan State off the schedule for the purposes of opening up a spot for a big home and home game with someone like Texas. We're using all our good early season spots (when conference teams are playing their nonconference schedules) on Purdue and Michigan State. If we want to get some big games on the schedule, we need to open up spots for them early in the year.
Another option would be to demand that these teams play us in November or we move on to someone else. We absolutely NEED good opponents in November. I know I keep harping on this, but you cannot close your season with Navy, Army, Rutgers, Duke, Pitt, Stanford. If we are going to be playing those types of schedules down the stretch, we are going to get crucified by the national media.
We're just asking to have the ESPN hacks all over our backs as soon as these schedules become public. The last thing I want is to see a 12-0 ND team get dropped in the polls in a couple years because our schedule wasn't good enough. And if people don't think we will get screwed by those types of schedules, they're kidding themselves. You can't trot out that kind of schedule and expect anyone to take you seriously, especially when we aren't in a conference and don't have conference championship games or anything like that.
So if we want to beef up that November schedule, it makes a lot of sense to ask Purdue/MSU to move some games there. If they don't want to do it, move on to someone else.
The Big East
The Big East takes a lot of flak from ND fans, but I don't have any problem with playing 3 Big East teams a year. The Big East has been great for the hoops program, and I like the idea of showing loyalty to our partners in the Big East by making the commitment to play them in 3 games. The Big East is a good league. They don't have the powerhouse teams (LSU, USC, Michigan, Texas type games), but just about everyone in the league is a solid middle tier game. A lot of the Big East teams (UConn, South Florida, Louisville, Cincy) are up and coming programs, so some of those games could turn out to be barnburners. We could line up home and homes with Rutgers, Pitt, WVU, South Florida, Cincy, Louisville, and UConn, and they would be good additions to the schedule. There is no difference between playing those teams and the Purdue/MSU type teams. 3 Big East teams a year is fine with me. I also like that they are willing to play us in November.
Heck, I would be ok with a 10 year deal with UConn if we were simultaneously working on some home and homes with Georgia, Texas, Florida, etc. But Kevin White tried to set up schedules so that UConn is potentially going to be one of our "big" games, which is absolutely comical. It is a big game compared to Baylor and Duke, but not against our historical standards of scheduling. And if we can't get games with Georgia or Texas, then go get the next best thing and line up some games with Clemson, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, Oklahoma State, Cal, Arizona State, and UCLA type teams. Not all of them, but maybe a couple. If we struck a deal to play at Arkansas in October and then Clemson at home in November and then reversed them the following year, I would be very pleased and very excited. It's certainly better than building a November schedule of Navy, Baylor, UConn, Rutgers, Stanford and expecting to get any respect out there. The 2010 schedule has consecutive games against Army, Navy, "Buy Game" (UConn), Rutgers,"Buy Game" (Baylor/Duke??), and then USC. You gotta be kidding me. That's a borderline MAC schedule until the SC game.
The neutral site game
Of all the games announced in recent months, it seems like the one game that has bothered ND fans the most has been these neutral site games. To be perfectly honest, I like the neutral site games and think they add intrigue to the schedule. The two games that have been announced (Washington State in San Antonio in 2009 and Arizona State in Dallas in 2013) are fairly solid games against respectable Pac 10 teams. The ASU game in the new Cowboys Stadium should be a doozy now that Dennis Erickson is running the show in Tempe.
With that said, I am concerned about some of the other proposed games. Other than the two announced games, it that all the other proposed neutral site games involve Army and Baylor. Considering that we are already facing the possibility of having to schedule 2-3 "buy games" at home every year, why are we also setting up neutral games with Army and Baylor?? We don't need that many weak games on the schedule. If we're not going to schedule someone decent like ASU, why not use that neutral site game to take care of one of our other commitments (Big East team or Navy)?? If we played Navy in the neutral site venue, we could use their spot to get a home and home series with someone else. If we played South Florida in New Orleans instead of Baylor, there's another option for freeing up room on the schedule. When John Heisler is saying "we don't have room for anyone else," he's being disingenuous. We don't have room for anyone else because we've chosen to box ourselves in. If we were thinking creatively, we could have the neutral site game and the 7-4-1 arrangement and still have a quality schedule.
Michigan, Navy, USC
As far as I'm concerned, these games are the cornerstones of our schedule and should always be on there. We have 3 locks and the other 9 should be at our discretion. Start the year with Michigan, USC, and Navy in pen, and then get working on 9 interesting games from there.
The way our schedule is shaping up in the future, it is actually going to be among the weaker schedules in the country. I don't like that at all. 7 home games, only 2 big games, one neutral game against a Baylor type opponent, and 4 road games. That's WEAK and going too far in the other direction. No one is going to remember another ND-Baylor game, but we will all remember an ND-Texas game. Isn't that what college football is all about?? I know we want to get to the title game, but isn't there something to be said for the journey?? Won't it be more satisfying knowing that you took on the best and beat the best?? I'm not asking for 5 huge games a year. I just want to see three. Right now, we only have 2. That's not good enough.
Just looking at the 2010 schedule, it would be so easy to tweak this:
Current 2010 S04 PURDUE S11 MICHIGAN S18 at Michigan State S25 STANFORD O02 at Boston College O09 PITTSBURGH O16 vs. Army (Chicago) O23 vs. Navy (Baltimore) N07 **BUY GAME** N13 RUTGERS (tentative) N20 **BUY GAME** N27 at USC
A proposed 2010 schedule incorporating some ideas discussed earlier:
S04 PURDUE S11 MICHIGAN S18 PITTSBURGH S25 at Boston College O02 STANFORD O09 NAVY (Orlando) O16 at Arkansas O23 RUTGERS N07 at Michigan State N13 CLEMSON N20 UCONN N27 at USC
Move Navy to the neutral site, push MSU toward the end to get better November games, sign up a home and home with Arkansas and Clemson for late in the year, and sprinkle in the Big East games to balance things out. Our schedule suddenly would have 6 good games to end the year, and we can get some major respect from the pollsters.
Same for 2011:
S03 at Purdue S10 at Michigan S17 MICHIGAN STATE S24 at Pittsburgh O01 SOUTH FLORIDA O08 **BUY GAME** O15 vs. Army (Orlando) O22 USC O29 RUTGERS/NAVY (resolve conflict) N05 CONNECTICUT N12 **BUY GAME** N26 at Stanford
My proposed 2011 schedule
S03 ARMY S10 at Michigan S17 MICHIGAN STATE S24 at Pittsburgh O01 SOUTH FLORIDA O08 at Clemson O15 CONNECTICUT (Foxboro) O22 USC O29 NAVY N05 at Purdue N12 ARKANSAS N26 at Stanford
Move Army to the first game, move Purdue to the end, add Arkansas as another good home game. Good balance in all three months.
If you want to get an additional heavyweight into the mix, how about these two sample schedules??
Rice Michigan Syracuse @ South Carolina Stanford @ Maryland bye Texas @ Pitt Connecticut (neutral-Meadowlands) @ Navy Michigan State @ USC
3 power games (USC, Michigan, Texas), 4 weak teams (Rice, Syracuse, UConn, Navy), and 5 mid-level teams (USF, Maryland, Arkansas, Pitt, MSU,Stanford). 2 HUGE home games with Michigan and Texas.
Duke @ Michigan Clemson Purdue @ Syracuse BYU bye USC Navy Louisville (neutral - Orlando) @ Alabama Rutgers @ Cal
3 power games (Bama, Michigan, USC), 3 weaker games (Navy, Syracuse,Duke), 6 mid-level games (BYU, Purdue, Rutgers, Louisville, Clemson,Cal). There are two legitimately good homes games there (Clemson and USC). Plus, the added bonus of an awesome road trip to Tuscaloosa.
Isn't that infinitely more exciting than the currently planned schedules?? That's just the tip of the iceberg. We can use our 3 rivalries, 3 Big East games, and then have fun setting up the next six. If you move Big East games and/or Navy to the neutral site and occasionally drop or move Purdue/MSU, you can even accomplish these schedules under the 7-4-1 format.
Get it done. Don't know how Kevin White couldn't figure this out.
To conclude, I'll finish with ND's football schedule in 1988 (our last national championship) with their AP ranking when we played them
MICHIGAN (#9) @ Michigan State Purdue Stanford @ Pittsburgh Miami (#1) Air Force @ Navy (neutral) Rice Penn State @ USC (#2)
Isn't that the type of schedule we're talking about?? 4 traditional powers (Michigan, Penn State, USC, Miami), 3 cupcakes (Air Force, Navy, Rice), and 4 mid-tier teams (MSU, Purdue, Stanford, Pittsburgh). 2 huge and memorable home games (Miami and Michigan). Keep in mind that it was an 11 game schedule. I imagine that we probably would have added another mid-tier team if it was a 12 game schedule. In other words, it's just about perfect in terms of what the fans want.
Sometimes the easiest thing to do is look into your past to find the answers.