July 10, 2009

Jack Swarbrick plays the "crazy alums" card. Uh oh

It's not often that the current Athletic Director at Notre Dame directly throws his customers under the bus, so I figured that it might be a good idea to take a closer look at what Swarbrick said in his interview with Blue and Gold Illustrated. Apparently Jack Swarbrick is starting to embrace the idea that ND alums are "internet crazies."

I don't have a problem with everything he says, so let's start with something that I can live with: his comments on the 2009 schedule. Here is the relevant text from what he said on this year's schedule.

“So, for people that think (the schedule) is easier, I can’t find the easier in the schedule. I’m not sure where they’re looking because I think it is going to be a very challenging schedule this year.”

“No one knows who will emerge in any season to have a vastly improved team that you couldn’t have anticipated. But the other thing is, when I look at those schools, I see a whole host of factors which suggest to me there are going to be some great teams there.”

These comments on the 2009 schedule have raised some eyebrows on the blogs and message boards, but I don't really have a problem with Swarbrick trying to defend the schedule. It's his job. It's not like Swarbrick is going to bash the schedule in an interview. That would be on the front page of ESPN.com within about five minutes, and the talking heads would be pointing to it with a "See! I told you ND has a weak schedule! Even their own AD admits it!" attitude. No need for that firestorm to erupt.

Swarbrick has an obligation as a representative of the school to defend the school. When you are a spokesman, you're paid to put the best spin out there that you can. If there's one guy who is obligated to defend the ND schedule in 2009, it's probably gotta be Swarbrick.

With that said, I hope to God that Swarbrick doesn't really believe that. Let's start with the first quote where he said "I can't find the easier in the schedule."

Ummm, that's just silly. Look at some of the schedules we have played in recent years.

2006 - Penn State, Michigan, UCLA, USC; 5 road games

2007 - Georgia Tech, Penn State, Michigan, UCLA, USC; 5 road games

That's a typical Notre Dame schedule. 3 games against "heavyweight" schools, 5+ road games, and usually 1-2 unique games against mid-tier teams that we don't normally play (Georgia Tech, UCLA). No one looked at the 2006 or 2007 schedule before the season and said that our schedule was soft. When you have that many quality names on the schedule, you are all but guaranteed to get at least 2-3 big time games against top 10-20ish teams.

This year's schedule doesn't have any of those characteristics. There are 4 road games, only two "heavyweights," and only one game that I would classify as a quality mid-tier opponent (Washington). In other words, we took away one game from each of those three categories. The net result is a schedule where we are probably only going to play one ranked team all year (USC).

What other teams is Swarbrick projecting to be a "great team" as he says in his second quote?? What is his definition of a "great team"?? A 7 win squad?? An Alamo Bowl participant?

I really would like to know who these other "great teams" are besides USC. Nevada?? Please. They're a mid-major with 250 pound linemen. Michigan?? Great team to have on the schedule, but a great team this year?? With a freshman QB?? Michigan State?? Can you really classify them as a "great team" when they are AT BEST a middle of the pack Big Ten team and got housed by Ohio State and Penn State last year?? Boston College?? Even though they are completely rebuilding and have a new coach?? A Stanford team that lost 7 games last year? A Pitt team that is coached by Dave Wannstedt?? A Purdue team that might not win more than 3 games this year?? A Washington State team that won one game last year??

Maybe it's UCONN!!!! That budding power out of the Northeast! It's not their fault that they had a losing record in the Big East, got destroyed at home by WVU and Pitt, and needed overtime to beat Temple. By golly, they are going to be a "great team" this year because Jack Swarbrick says so.

There isn't one team out there on this schedule besides USC who is going to be a 10 win type team and finish in the top 15. Put that in pen. Even if we win 10 games with this schedule, we're going to get ZERO respect from the college football world. Beating Pitt and UConn doesn't really deliver the same type of respect that beating LSU or Georgia would have delivered. We've been chirping about this for years, but the 2009 schedule is a direct reflection of Kevin White's dumb scheduling policies.

This is not a "great schedule." If Swarbrick thinks this is a great schedule, he needs to look at Georgia's schedule with a full slate of SEC powerhouses plus OOC games with Oklahoma State, Arizona State, and Georgia Tech. He needs to look at USC's schedule where they play 9 PAC 10 games and road games at Ohio State and Notre Dame. He could even look at Miami (FL)'s schedule where they play the full ACC slate plus Oklahoma. Miami is probably going to play 4-5 ranked teams this year. Those are tough schedules. Our schedule is a combination of bad Big East teams, bad Pac 10 teams, and mediocre Big 10 teams.

And all you need to know about what people think of this schedule is right there in the ticket lottery results that were released this week. There are all sorts of facts and figures out there about how little money ND had to return to fans this year because most of the ticket requests were filled. Yes, they can blame the economy, but the story goes much deeper than that. The schedule absolutely had something to do with it.

A quick story on how light the demand was this year for tickets. My wife forgot to put her $100 donation in this year before the December 31 deadline that allows you to apply for football tickets. Kind of a bummer at the time since it was nice to have two lottery applications going into the pool. Anyway, we sort of forgot about it until someone from ND contacted her in the early spring to ask if she wanted to contribute her $100 to ND. The incentive was that they would even apply it retroactively to allow her to enter the 2009 football lottery. When has that ever happened for ND tickets?? Those puppies used to be like gold, and I can't imagine that we would have had that same option back in the day when ND tickets were in high demand. If you didn't put your $100 in, you were out of luck. No ifs, ands, or buts. This year, apparently you could just send in your money at your convenience.

Anyway, she applied for 4-5 games (including a couple road games) and won all of them! That has never happened before in any other year. We figured she would probably get 1 game as a token, and it turned out that she pretty much had the pick of the litter. At the risk of sounding like a punk, we have TOO MANY tickets to ND home games this year. We were just hoping to win a game or two, and now we practically have season tickets with 4 tickets to almost all of the home games. Honest to god, if anyone out there is looking for tickets to some games, please send us an email to the address linked to the right.

And not to keep picking on them, but did ANYONE apply for UConn tickets this year?? I mean, ANYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYONE???? I honestly have not seen one mention of someone applying for or "winning" tickets to that UConn game. I know we have that faux "sellout streak" going, but there is no way that game is sold out. No chance. Can you imagine the crowd that we'll get for that game?? It's scheduled for November 24, and I'm guessing it will be about 15 degrees with some level of snow or other nasty precipitation. You honestly couldn't pay me to go to that game. If you gave me front row seats, a hotel, and free drinks at The Backer all night, I'd still turn it down. Imagine if ND has another down year, and we have a 6-4 ND team going up against a 5-5 UConn team. My god, there are high schools here in Ohio that will probably have bigger attendance than what we would see in South Bend that weekend.

This is why you don't load up your schedule with UConns, especially late in the year. I don't know what Kevin White expected, but apparently he thought he could just roll the balls out there with any old lousy Big East program and that people would just show up with no questions asked. Sort of the Wrigley Field effect. White assumed ND fans were a bunch of lap dogs who would come running to South Bend just to see the gold helmets and the Dome and that it didn't matter who we were playing.

Apparently our fanbase is starting to draw the line. There was zero demand for tickets this year. I think people looked at their ticket lottery applications and decided not to bother. The home schedule is the worst I've ever seen. Even if you want to go to a game, you can probably buy one for face value up in South Bend on the day of the game.

Now let me ask our readers if that would have changed if we had Alabama on the schedule in late November instead of UConn. And instead of playing that bogus game against Wazzou (which I am admittedly attending....just call me a hypocrite right now!!), let's say we were starting a home and home series with Clemson with the Tigers coming to South Bend this year. Think there might be some demand for those two ballgames?? I think so!!

Unfortunately, Swarbrick states in his interview that he supports this Kevin White model of scheduling. Here's his quote.

“I do embrace it. It does two things I really like,” Swarbrick said of the White’s schedule model. “It maximizes home games and it allows us to have, during the regular season, essentially a special event, almost a bowl-game like experience. It’s good for our student athletes. It’s great for the university to promote itself in another market, so I love those two aspects of what Kevin has set in motion.”

As I've said in the past, I don't necessarily have a problem with Kevin White's model for scheduling (7-4-1, neutral site), but the execution under White was an abomination. The only way that model works is if you get rid of the Big East partnerships and the Stanford series and the Purdue series. Heck, you don't even need to do all that. You just need to take at least one or two of those things off the plate in a given year. And if you're going to do a neutral site game, it's better to use that as a chip in a negotiation with a heavyweight for a 1-1-1 series. If you do that, it leaves you with room for 7 home games, plenty of room for another heavyweight, and enough room for a neutral site game. Suddenly a bad idea can be a great idea. Here would be a great model for a couple schedules in fact.

AIR FORCE (one off home game)
at Michigan (H&H)
at Colorado (H&H)
TCU (one off home game)
CLEMSON (neutral site -Georgia Dome - 1-1-1)
at Pitt (1-1-1)
at Stanford (2 for 1 H&H)

HAWAII (one off home game)
at Michigan State (H&H)
UTAH (one off home game)
STANFORD (H&H or 2 for 1)
at Alabama (H&H)
PITT (neutral site -- Giants Stadium - 1-1-1)
CLEMSON (1-1-1)
at Navy (neutral site)
PURDUE (3 for 1 H&H)
at USC (H&H)

Check those bad boys out!! This isn't rocket science. That took me five minutes. Those are two pretty sweet schedules that fit within a 7-4-1 format that still preserve most of ND's traditional opponents. It modifies the terms of our Purdue and Pitt relationships, uses the neutral site to get a great new matchup with Clemson, it adds a HEAVYWEIGHT in Alabama for a home and home, and it makes the home schedule dramatically better. Suddenly, the first schedule would add Alabama and a neutral site game with Clemson that would be very attractive. The second schedule would add Clemson at home and an incredible road trip to Tuscaloosa. Plus, it wouldn't be an impossible schedule by any means. It would be comparable to what the SEC/ACC/Big 12/USC types are playing, and a good ND team would do very well against it.

Memo to Jack Swarbrick, put together a quality schedule and the fans will be there rocking and rolling. Load up the schedule with UConns and "long term partners" and bad neutral site games, and you'll be scrambling to find people like my wife to give a donation three months after the deadline so that you can beg her to take a couple tickets off your hands.

And that brings me back to Jack Swarbrick. Ahhh, Big Jack. A guy I have so many high hopes for. For the most part, I have been a Swarbrick supporter, but this quote doesn't sit well with me AT ALL. This is the kind of quote that you'd see from John Heisler or Kevin White, but I was hoping that Swarbrick would change that type of thinking.

“Our fans would like to see us play a top-10 team every week. Well, top-10 teams aren’t going to come on a non home-and-home basis. Top 30 teams aren’t going to come on a non home-and-home basis. And so you have to balance those things…It’s much harder than I might have thought prior to sitting down and trying to fill in those blanks.”

KABOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM. Uh oh. Bombshell. Swarbrick just played the "crazy alums" card. He went straight to the John Heisler playbook to come up with that one. Heck, Heisler might have even written that line for him.

What a load of crap. Nothing like tossing out an absurd "straw man" like "our fans want to play a top 10 team every week." You can't beat it!! You know Swarbrick has been spending too much time in the ND athletic department when he's dropping that kind of line. What happened to Jack "Anytime, Anywhere" Swarbrick who was talking about playing Miami and Bama and Texas?? Now, he's out there throwing his paying customers under the bus for having the audacity to demand a couple half decent home games. How dare us for not wanting to go to a UConn game??!? Shame on us ND fans!!

Well Jack, as one of those "crazy alums," here's my response.

Here is a list of all the people among the ND fanbase that want to play top 10 teams every week.

WHAT A LIST!! Look at that spectacular list of ZERO PEOPLE who want to play a slate of Florida, Texas, OU, Miami, Michigan, USC, Georgia, Auburn, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee, and Florida State. All those wacky alums and their crazy demands. Look at them! What a joke those people are! Boo! I hate those guys! Ungrateful bastards.

Again, Jack, NO ONE wants to play 12 top 10 teams a year. NO ONE. NO ONE is advocating for that. People want a balanced schedule that passes the look test. A few easy games, a few medium games, and a few games against traditional powerhouses. But you go ahead there with your straw man and tell the world that the crazy alums want 12 powerhouses a year. Keep up the great work.

Let's take a closer look at what he had to say in the rest of that paragraph, specifically the stuff about top 10 and top 30 teams not wanting to play us on a non home and home basis. I ask you this question. WHY DO WE HAVE TO PLAY THOSE SCHOOLS ON A NON-HOME AND HOME BASIS???!!? Where is that in the ND scheduling manifesto?? Please point out to me where it says that we aren't allowed to play Alabama in a home and home series?? Are we in a conference that I don't know about?? Aren't we an independent?? Can't we do whatever we want?? ISN'T THAT THE WHOLE POINT OF BEING AN INDEPENDENT??

On what grounds would we have to ask Georgia or Alabama to play us on the road with no return game?? Aren't they better football programs than us right now with rabid fanbases?? Don't they have any other number of options for compelling nonconference games?? Why would we dictate the terms to either of those schools?? If they were to come to South Bend, why couldn't we go down to Tuscaloosa or Athens to play them??

There is nothing more annoying to me than a phony, and that's what Swarbrick sounds like in this interview. Everything he says in that last paragraph is completely disingenuous. He's setting up terms for other schools that no one would agree to, and then blaming other schools for not wanting to agree to them. And then he blames the fans for setting up "unreasonable expectations" that actually are quite reasonable.

This whole interview is insulting to the intelligence of any Notre Dame football fan. You could go back five years and hear the EXACT same words out of the mouth of Kevin White and John Heisler. About how there was no room for heavyweights, about how we can't get better home and homes, and how "crazy alums" want unrealistic schedules.

This is concerning to me. I have been holding out hope that Swarbrick was different, but this sounds like the same garbage that I've been hearing from the suits at ND for a decade. He's only been at ND for a year, and he's already speaking from the Heisler/White playbook. Instead of a guy who was going to bring ND back from the brink with compelling and exciting schedules, he sounds like a guy who wants to preserve the status quo.

Meanwhile, ND Stadium is going to be half full for multiple home games this year, and we're playing a schedule where 10 wins probably won't even get us into the top 10. I think that tells you all you need to know.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that his quote "top-10 teams aren’t going to come on a non home-and-home basis" meant that top 10 teams would only play on a home-and-home basis. i.e. They will not play if it is not home-and-home.

Craig said...

MSU, BC, and Pitt are quality mid-tier opponents by any reasonable definition of "quality" and "mid-tier".

Craig said...

I'd also like to see the first hypothetical schedule weakened a little bit. I want three "breather" games on any schedule so the team doesn't get ground into dust, and I think TCU is a little high end for that. I'd rather see them filling the back end of the middle tier rather than the top end of the bottom tier.

I can't see BC going two-for-one with us, either. No way they'd go for that.

matt said...

"...ND Stadium is going to half full for multiple games ...a schedule where 10 wins probably won't get us into the top ten..." With this reasoning I guess Penn State will be playing to an empty stadium this fall-- Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois, Indiana, all teams Nevada would defeat. Ancient Rome filled the Colosseum with a similar schedule, so I guess Penn State's really not in trouble. The UCONN game will be well attended.

Tony said...

I hope someone from the athletic department reads this article, since I know a lot of alums who feel the same way.

Also, to Matt: Penn State plays all of those cupcakes on or before Oct 10 (Their schedule opens with Akron/Syracuse/Temple/Iowa/@Illinois/E. Illinois). If you don't know the difference between "Oct 10 in State College" and "Nov 16 in South Bend," you need to spend some more time outside.

Additionally, Penn State will also more than likely be undefeated for all of those games, creating more interest. I think that that might be the biggest hurdle with the AD's current scheduling: if ND's highly ranked, people will show up, regardless of opponent or weather. However, in the past a ranked ND meant that we had played quality opponents; now if we lose one game we'll likely be on the outside of the Top 25 looking in. The AD's attempting to recreate the "excitement" of an undefeated scheduling through avoiding teams that have a realitic shot to consistently beat us.

Anonymous said...

No way would TCU, Stanford, Purdue, or Utah take a one off home game or a 3 for 1, 2 for 1 deal. No way. These aren't bottom feeders--Utah's won 2 more BCS games than ND has, TCU's had a helluva better record the last 3 years, and no way do Purdue and Stanford take it in the rear from us like that. To dictate those terms, you've got to look at the BOTTOM level of college football: the BOTTOM of the WAC, the BOTTOM of the Mountain West, the BOTTOM of the Big East, maybe Miss St out of the SEC, MAYBE IU out of the Big 10, maybe Wazzu out of the Pac 10, maybe Baylor or Iowa St out of the Big 12, and the Sun Belt, MAC, or Conference USA. There's your pool for "one off home games" or 3 for 1's. For someone who argues that ND fans aren't asking for top 10 teams each week, you seem to put a lot in; USC, Utah, and Alabama are all top 10, TCU flirts with it, Clemson was ranked high early last year before they imploded and has the talent if the new coach is any good. The only "bad" team you've got listed is Purdue, because they've got a new coach and are down. Every other team is a bowl contender. This is a great schedule if you're looking to go 8-4 at best.