January 21, 2009

Texas, Swarbrick, 7-4-1, Gruden, and more!

Ok, all kinds of things going on in the world of ND football, so let's just do a rundown and address all these things at once.

3) First, I'll admit that any rumblings regarding our future schedules always get my attention, so let's start with this article out of the Austin American-Statesman (great newspaper name by the way) about a possible ND-Texas game. Here's the relevant text.

A series with Notre Dame is a possibility for a future season, Worley said.

"We'll probably roll something out there in their direction," Worley said. "We'd certainly think about it. We're not (officially) talking, but they have a new athletic director, and it's probably something we'll explore. But it probably will not be for seven, eight or nine years out."

Notre Dame associate athletic director John Heisler said no games with Texas are currently in the works. A date to play Baylor in the Dallas area was prevented by a Big 12 television contract rule.

Previously, Texas had tried to schedule Notre Dame, but the Irish wanted a marquee game in October or November and the Longhorns preferred dates in September.

If Texas-Notre Dame is scheduled, it could be played at the universities' home stadiums or at neutral site, such as the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington, Worley said. "We'd probably look at either option," he said.

Cmon Swarbrick, they are calling us out for a game!! Go out and give them the two word response that would send chills up the spine of any Notre Dame fan with a pair:



Just looking at the Notre Dame schedule for 2010 and 2011 for a minute:


S18 @ Michigan St.
O02 @ Boston College
O16 Army (Chicago)
O23 @ Navy (Baltimore)
N13 Utah
N27 @ Southern Cal
2 games TBD


S03 @ Purdue
S10 @ Michigan
S24 @ Pittsburgh
O15 Army (Orlando)
N26 @ Stanford
3 games TBD

There is room on either one of those schedules for a "marquee" game. Couldn't we do some sort of home game with them in that late October slot in 2010 and then follow it up by going out there in November of 2011?? Wouldn't that be a MONSTER game?? I don't see how it wouldn't. You'd be talking about the 2nd and 3rd winningest programs of all time in college football. With all the uncertainty around the Michigan program these days, we are staring at a series of schedules where USC may be the only marquee team that we face for the next few years. ND football has a perception problem, and one of the perceptions that I hate the most is that we play a "soft" schedule. I'm tired of having that anchor around our neck, but there is a lot of truth to that perception. The reality is that we seem to have way too many games locked up with mediocre Big East teams and mediocre Big Ten teams and mediocre Pac 10 teams. If we go lock up a home and home with Texas, that would give us three marquee games for 2010 and 2011. That's all I'm looking for as a fan.

The other possibility would be a neutral site game in one of those years (or maybe both). I'm not a big fan of the neutral site game because I like seeing college football on college campuses, but that seems to be all the rage these days. If we played Texas in New York or Chicago and then somewhere in the south, I could get behind that. I actually heard something about Illinois and Northwestern playing a game at Wrigley Field next year. That's actually a pretty cool idea, but I'm not sure if Wrigley is big enough for an ND game. Lambeau Field could be another option. I've always wanted to go up there for a game.

It will be very interesting to see what happens with these open slots in our schedule in these upcoming years. I keep reading on NDNation that Swarbrick "gets it", but I'm not sure I buy it just yet. I'd be willing to bet that we fill those two slots in 2010 with UConn/Syracuse at the Meadowlands and either another Big East team or a Mountain West team at home. That's the ND football that I've come to know in the last 5-10 years, and I haven't heard one thing out of Swarbrick to give me any indication that he wants to do anything differently. Unfortunately, when everyone else is closing with big games and conference championship games, we're going to be finishing up with the UConns and Syracuses and Armys and Navys of the world. That perception might come back to haunt us.

If Texas calls us out for a game and we cower in fear and schedule UConn instead, that will be a very telling sign of what we have become.

2) Speaking of Swarbrick, all kinds of quotes from him in his interview in the South Bend Tribune. A few quotes in particular jumped off the page for me and any other ND fan I would imagine.

"I can make a pretty strong argument that we were three plays from being 9-3. And that gives you a much different perception. The flip side of that is we had some good plays that is if you take some good plays out of the mix, we would have been hurt. But you could point to very specific plays in our season that were game-changers."

Maybe I'm overreacting, but this kind of quote troubles me. I know he tried to qualify it by saying that we were a couple plays from being 4-8, but I still don't like the tone of what he is trying to say. The Notre Dame mentality lately has been "well, look at our record, we almost went 9-3." BIG WHOOP. I don't even really care about our record. I want to see a program that plays good football. Making a couple more plays to beat a mediocre team like Pitt and a bad team like Syracuse doesn't erase the fact that we weren't a very good football team last year. That's the bigger issue with me.

I don't even care that we lost to Syracuse. I care that they were even close!! Good teams beat teams like Syracuse by four touchdowns (i.e. what Penn St did to Syracuse this past year). Swarbrick seems to indicate that all would be well if we had snuck out a couple more plays to beat the Cuse by 3 at home. That's not really what I was looking for. If he was talking about a couple plays away from beating Texas or even Missouri, I can understand it. But the Cuse?? NO.

I don't want to spend a bunch of time banging on Swarbrick because he's brand new and he's an alum and he hasn't really had any time to put his stamp on the athletic program. Believe me, I hope he ends up doing an incredible job to restore the brand name of ND's football and basketball programs, and that we look back on his tenure as one of great success. But judging by what he's said and done in his brief tenure thus far, I haven't gotten any impression that he's really going to make a big push to change the status quo of ND football. I haven't heard one thing out of his mouth that made me go "wow, this is a different type of guy in charge." Its seems to be business as usual in terms of endorsing mediocrity and the weak schedules and all the other stuff that we had to deal with during the Kevin White era. Maybe he's doing a lot of good things behind the scenes, but his public actions and statements are straight out of the KW playbook. I will give Swarbrick all the credit in the world if big changes start happening on our future schedules, but I'd like to see some evidence of that happening before I start talking about him being a different type of leader for ND.

I appreciate Swarbrick's interest in data analysis and all that, but there is no amount of rationalization that can put a positive stamp on the 2008 season. It was a complete disaster, and I would prefer that Swarbrick say nothing over some Ty Willingham-esque nonsense about how we were "close" to being a decent team. We got blown out by freaking BC. We got humiliated by USC. We lost to Syracuse. We lost to every half-decent team we played. The team appeared to quit down the stretch. There was nothing good about the 2008 season.

I have come to terms with the decision to bring back Weis and actually support the decision, but I don't have a whole lot of tolerance for the spin game to try to portray last season as somehow "a few plays away."

I want to see some actual substance out of Notre Dame football for a change. Put away the Chicago Cubs marketing model of selling "hope" and "tradition" with a bunch of excuses mixed in, and start delivering some quality teams.

"I probably get questions about scheduling more than anything else. When somebody questions the quality of an opponent, what I would say to them is: 'Would you like to have fewer home games?' That is the tradeoff."

Of all the quotes from Swarbrick, this one is the one that really gets on my nerves. Is that why we're softening up the schedule?? So that alumni can get a couple extra tickets to the freaking UConn game??? Are you kidding me?? Why not just schedule 12 homes games and be done with it?? We can just call ourselves the Notre Dame Globetrotters and just play 12 exhibitions at home. Then the alums can get all the tickets they want against Duke and Syracuse at home in November.

Is there even one Notre Dame alum with some common sense who wouldn't happily trade a couple extra home games to get a big home and home with someone like Bama or Texas or even Clemson or Arkansas?? Are there that many people out there who are upset that they didn't get tickets to freaking Syracuse last year or Duke the year before?? By my count, there were PLENTY of tickets available for both those games. Heck, if an alum wanted to go to those games, he could have driven to ND and probably picked up a ticket for free.

I'm tired of getting my ticket application in the mail every year and trying to decide whether Pitt or Purdue is the second best home game on the schedule. ND can do far better than that. If we had Texas on the schedule, I'd gladly trade out my opportunity to get UConn tickets. I mean, come on. That's an absurd reason to not schedule a big home and home.

I'm tired of the excuses. It seems like we are always reaching for an excuse NOT to schedule these games when the job of the athletic director is to find ways to make it work. Stop with the NBC excuses and the "alums want more home games" excuses. ND's legacy is gradually eroding over time, and we are becoming a national joke and being viewed as cowards. That is far greater damage than whether a couple whiny alums don't get tickets to some bogus 8th home game against Army.

"It is very important for people to recognize that the motivation for this really has virtually nothing to do with football. "

This quote is in reference to the neutral site game against Wazzou and has caused a lot of outrage on the message boards, but I don't really have a big problem with the fact that we apparently have other motivations for these neutral site games. I get that. ND's mission is one of service, so I really don't mind that they are using these "road" trips to spread ND's message.

What I don't understand is why we can't achieve our goals of service as a university and also play a good football team in these games!! Would it take away from the service aspect if we were playing LSU in San Antonio??

I am not opposed to the neutral site games as a hard rule and don't even care that this particular game is against Wazzou (who is really not a bad program at the end of the day), but it just goes with the general theme that our football program is being used for too many purposes besides football. We have the Big East agreement for basketball, the neutral site agreement for community service, and we also have the NBC agreement to make sure they are getting enough games. It's just too many things on our plate, and combining all of it is damaging our ability to schedule.

"Schools like Notre Dame — and all the schools that are comparable to us — are engaged in the same process. It's why the market has gotten so difficult. Other than their Big Ten games, Ohio State and Michigan want to maximize their home games. Purdue the same thing. So we are all pursuing the same schools. It just creates a market that is a challenge for us.

Look, I don't want to make too big of a deal out of this quote because the reality of the 12 game schedule is that you are going to have at least 1 or 2 "buy games" on the schedule every year. I actually want ND to open with a cupcake every year to ease into the schedule and won't get bent out of shape if there is another one somewhere on the schedule. I did notice that one of our "peers" doesn't pop up in that quote from Swarbrick though.

The University of Southern California.

You see, USC doesn't play "buy" games. They schedule home and homes and sometimes just "road" games or neutral site games. They schedule like Notre Dame used to schedule. Their motto is "ANYTIME, ANYWHERE." USC is the gold standard when it comes to bold and creative scheduling, and that's partially why they have become the marquee program in college football these days. USC is always playing a big game. They always seem to be looking for ways to challenge themselves. Heck, the whole Pac 10 has become like that. I would love to see ND following their lead (heck, we should have been leading them!!).

Meanwhile, we are putting ourselves in a category with Purdue and the Big 10 schools that aren't exactly known for going out of their way to play interesting schedules.

1) Finally, I don't think you can have a post on Notre Dame football without addressing the ludicrous Jon Gruden to ND rumors that have been popping up of late. I can't even believe this thing has been gaining legs in the media after someone made up a completely false rumor in the NY Daily News. Can we just put this nonsense to rest?? Give me a break. Not only is Gruden not coming to ND, we don't even want him.

ND made the decision to bring back Charlie Weis for next year, and there is no way that they are backing off that decision now. If anything, Weis has solidified himself with the school by quietly getting the team ready to play in the bowl game and by having a very solid offseason. Weis has made some good hires with Verducci and Alford and Bryant Young, and it sounds like we are going to get a good d-line coach. Did Weis make some mistakes in hiring his original staff?? Yes, no doubt about it, but I think he had a legitimate excuse in that he was working with New England. There were going to be some growing pains in assembling a staff for a new coach who hadn't been around college football for 15 years, but he has been gradually making changes to upgrade the staff. Corwin Brown was a real good pick, Tenuta has been solid, and now the new guys are coming on board. I have no idea how things will turn out next year, but Weis is going all out to upgrade the staff and put this team back on the right track. At this point, he has done all that could be expected out of him, and I'm glad to see that the administration has his back.

As for Gruden, why would ND even think about getting involved with Gruden?? Nothing about Jon Gruden gives me any inclination that he would be a good fit in college football. The guy loves veterans, he runs an insanely complex offense, and his players don't really like him. Gruden is known as a guy who loves to get up at 3 am and bury himself in his office for 18 hours. Is that the type of guy you want as a college head coach?? If ND alums are complaining about Weis not being accessible enough, what would they think of Gruden the first time he blew off some fundraiser because he was breaking down film of Purdue's zone defense?? Is Gruden going to want to deal with parents calling to complain about playing time or a homesick kid or some alum who is badgering him to attend some banquet?? Life as a head coach in college is part coach and part salesman and part politician, and Gruden doesn't strike me as the type of guy who would want any part of the other responsibilities besides being the coach.

If Weis doesn't work out, maybe the talk of Gruden and ND will spark up. Maybe ND will talk to Gruden and find out his vision for how he would run a college football program and come away with a conclusion that he would be a perfect fit at ND, but it's not even on the radar at this point. Gruden is an NFL guy, ND already has a head coach who is bringing back a slew of experienced players that he personally recruited, and we've already told Weis that he's coming back. So let's put this Gruden stuff to rest. It's completely unfair to Charlie Weis, and the rumors can't be good for recruiting.


Jimmy said...

One quick comment on the 7-8 home games that are becoming a scheduling certainty. Home Games = $$$$$$$

Especially in these economic times, take the guaranteed flow when it's there. $$$ is the motivating factor behind many (if not the majority) of decisions in an athletic department. It would be folly for Swarbrick, or anyone else in his position, to overlook the ramifications of that extra home game, even if it looks like we're avoiding big-time opponents.

I sure hope to see the Texases and Alabamas and other elite programs find their way onto the schedule as that 3rd elite game.

A very underrated game added in the last year or two that doesn't fit the bill of an elite program, but will be huge and exciting nonetheless - Nov. 13th, 2010 UTAH. If Whittingham is still there, or even if he isn't, the Utes will be rarin to go in South Bend. I know it's not on par with a Texas, LSU or Ohio State, but Utah is quietly one of the top 15 programs in the country. I sure hope they stay at this level and we get a crack at a top 10 team in ND Stadium.

Doug said...

Jimbo, good stuff, and obviously you are much more familiar with the inner workings of an athletic department than the average fan like myself. Revenue is an important part of the equation when it comes to scheduling and making decisions, and I'll admit that my requests for ND are easier to accomplish in a vaccuum than in the real world of operating in a budget.

Here's the only question I have about the "well, everything comes down to the money" argument.

As we know, Texas and Alabama want to play us in home and home series. They are on the record as doing so. Wouldn't both those schools be agreeing to give up a home game by offering that series?? If Bama goes on the road to ND, they are not getting the extra home game that is apparently so critical to the financial survival of athletic departments. Why would it be ok for Texas or Bama to give up a home game and drop down to 6 or 7 home games in a year and it would be completely unfathomable for Notre Dame?? We would be willing to give up a series with Texas because it wouldn't allow us to schedule an extra home game one year against Army?? It's more important to bring in a couple extra dollars over restoring the brand name of Notre Dame football??

Alabama just played a neutral site game against Clemson this past year in Atlanta where they split the revenue with Clemson. They are doing something similar next year I believe against Virginia Tech in Atlanta, and they did it two years ago against Florida State in Jacksonville. I think we would all agree that Alabama football is big time football and big time business. But Notre Dame couldn't do something similar?? We couldn't play Bama in Dallas and split the pot?? Why not?? We have to hoard all the money from these neutral site games?? That's the new Notre Dame way??

Even a school like Ohio State that is probably the king of "revenue generation" is now playing 1 major home and home series a year in addition to Michigan and Penn State. Couldn't we do something like that?? Add one big game to go with USC and Michigan. A home and home with Texas wouldn't make money for Notre Dame?? Couldn't we play 8 home games one year with the "heavyweight" as the 8th home game and then play 7 the next year when we play that team on the road??? Unfortunately, if we insist on the "buy game" neutral site plus 7 home games, we're boxing ourselves in.

It would be one thing if no one was doing these types of things, but I see schools all over the country that are scheduling attractive home and homes and attractive neutral site games. It doesn't appear to be affecting the bottom lines of those schools. It makes me wonder why Notre Dame can't accomplish these same things (or more suspiciously, whether we want to).

Secondly, when did the Notre Dame football program become all about the money?? Are we a football program or the Harlem Globetrotters?? When did it become a requirement that Notre Dame plays 7.5 home games a year?? Why not just play 12 home games then?? We didn't seem to be doing too badly financially when we were only playing 6 or 7 or even 5 home games a year. As I've said a number of times on this blog, I can live with the 7-4-1 model, but there's still room to schedule attractive games AND make money. It doesn't have to be one or the other, but ND seems to be making it out to be like that these days.

I don't understand how money trumps everything at all times. I'm obviously not naive enough to think that ND doesn't need money to run the athletic department, and I understand that you need revenue to be successful. But this notion that we need to squeeze every dollar out of ND football at the expense of our long term brand name is incredibly shortsighted if you ask me.

If we continue on this path of selling out for today's dollars, the ND football that has always been a leader in college football will not have the same standing in the college football world. I like to think of The Masters as a similar example. The Masters doesn't sell out for every commercial dollar. They have kept the same formula of 4 minutes of commercials per hour because they want the quality of their product to be the best. And that's why The Masters are as popular as ever. They understand that the best way to make money in the long term is to protect their brand.

We continue to come up with excuses of why we CAN'T do things when there is evidence all around us that other schools are doing the same things that we say we can't do to create exciting and interesting schedules. And even if ND was adamant that they need that 8th home game to survive financially (which I don't buy for a second but am willing to consider for the purposes of discussion), aren't there still things that we can do to work within those parameters?? We have boxed ourselves into this idea that we need 8 home games and that we don't want heavyweights and we have to play Stanford and we have to play 3 Big East games and we have to cater to NBC for a neutral site game. One or two of those things can work, but not all of them if we want to have a good schedule. I wouldn't have a problem with the 8 home games plan if we were being creative to make it work, but we're not even putting out an effort.

I agree that the Utah game is looking a nice addition to the 2010 schedule if Whittingham is still there, but you're still talking about a "buy" game with them. We are buying them to come play a game at ND with no return game. It has worked out since Utah is looking like they could be on the rise as a program, but I'm certainly not going to puff my chest about how we boldly scheduled Utah for a home game and wouldn't agree to play them on the road.

Doug said...

I don't want to come off like I am giving up on Jack Swarbrick to turn things around with ND football. He's only just begun with his job, and there are still plenty of spots open on the 2010 and 2011 schedules and any future schedules. He'll have plenty of opportunities to reshape things in South Bend, and I'll be the first to celebrate and sing his praises if he makes it happen.

I do think that it's a good sign that Swarbrick is at least discussing these things and I do get the impression that he is thinking through everything to come up with some good resolutions instead of just haphazardly putting things together (like his predecessor).

It's never easy to be the GM/AD of any major organization, but he is the face of ND athletics and is probably our best hope for change.

When it comes to being a GM or AD of a sports franchise or a big athletic department, I always like to see the person in charge focusing on two things.

1) Value
2) Cornerstones

If you're the GM of a baseball team, you always want to be out there looking for bargains or castoffs from other franchises who might turn out to be valuable players for you. You need to find the Mark DeRosa types, and finding hidden gems like Josh Hamilton is always a great sign of a quality GM.

I actually think ND has done a good job of finding value on our future schedules. If we are going to be looking for "buy" games, getting teams like Utah and South Florida and even Washington State on board have been good finds. I don't even mind having some of these up and coming Big East teams on the schedule. Some of these types of games can turn out to be quality opponents for your schedule if you do your homework. It certainly won't hurt our schedule to have Utah on there. I would much rather be playing Mountain West teams and Big East teams without return dates than I-AA teams.

But there's something to be said about having some cornerstones as well. You can't have a baseball team full of utility guys and scrappy overachievers. You need some studs. And if you have too many "value" guys, your product probably isn't going to be very good. Signing mediocre value types to 2 year, $6 million contracts is fine when you do it in moderation, but it suddenly looks awful when you can't afford to resign your young stud pitcher to a big deal because you have too much money locked up in your value guys.

That's where I think ND has been lacking. We're finding a good chunk of "value" opponents, but you can't have a schedule with too many of them. There's a balancing act, but our plate is too full with the Big East teams and Purdue and Stanford and those types. And we've gone out of our way to lock these teams into long term deals. When your value teams are getting in the way of scheduling Texas and Georgia, then you have a problem. It's no different than a baseball team that fetters away money on bullpen arms and can't resign their ace because of it.

Hopefully Swarbrick will recognize that there is an imbalance on our schedules going forward and work to correct it. He's obviously a smart guy and an ND alum who knows what ND football used to be all about, so I hope that he will be the right man for the job.