May 17, 2010

Catholics vs Convicts: Thoughts on the Miami-ND series, Kevin White, Jack Swarbrick, and why this game is a great sign for ND independence.

Great weekend for the future of Notre Dame football with the announcement that Notre Dame and Miami(Fl) could be lining up for a three game series in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Not only is it a great opportunity to rekindle one of the most storied rivalries in college football, but it is a great sign that the leadership at ND might finally be turning the corner on scheduling. Kudos to Jack Swarbrick for getting this done.

Let's break this series down in terms of its implications.

(1) It is a much-needed "heavyweight" on the future schedules

Take a look at what some of the other big name programs had on their schedules in terms of heavyweights in 2009:

Alabama - Virginia Tech, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Florida (SEC Championship game)

Florida - Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Florida State, Alabama (SEC Championship game)

LSU - Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Alabama

Georgia - Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn plus nonconference games with Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, and Arizona State

Ohio State - USC, Michigan, Penn State

Nebraska - Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Texas

Oklahoma - Miami(FL), Texas, Nebraska

Miami (FL) - Florida State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma

For the most part, the big boys are playing anywhere from 3-5 games a year against the other big boys.

Furthermore, look at the competition that ND played in our heyday in the late 80s and early 90s.

1987 - Michigan, USC, Alabama, Penn State, Miami
1988 - Michigan, Miami, Penn State, USC
1989 - Michigan, USC, Penn State, Miami
1990 - Michigan, Miami, Tennessee, Penn State, USC
1991 - Michigan, USC, Tennessee, Penn State

That's a MINIMUM of four heavyweights a year and sometimes five. And you know what?? We did just fine against those schedules. Maybe we didn't win the title every year, but we won a TON of big games and were always in the mix. And we were battled-tested for big bowl games because we had already played top notch competition. Isn't that ultimately what we want??

ND had an "Anytime, Anywhere" mindset back in those days, and I think that carried over to the field. USC had that attitude during this decade. No fear. Take on all comers and win.

Anyway, I'm really glad that Jack Swarbrick has started to address that issue. Your schedules should be built around the "big games" on the schedule. You need those anchor games that everyone can point to and get excited about. No one is excited about Michigan State or Purdue or even Utah. When your ticket app comes out, you aren't crossing your fingers hoping you get one of those games.

Miami is different though. It will be one of those "I have to be there for that one even if I have to drive up without tickets" type games.

The other thing that I like about having 3-4 heavyweights on the schedule is that it gives us a little insurance in case one or more of the other big name teams on our schedule is going through a down stretch. Michigan is facing all kinds of problems with their present coaching situation, but they also have some long term challenges facing that program that might take awhile to dig out from. Michigan will always be a great game that I am happy to play, but we can't necessarily count on them to be a top 10 team every year going forward like we could have twenty years ago.

Same with USC. As great as their run was from 2002-2008, it will be very difficult for them to sustain that forever, especially with a new coach in the fold. If Lane Kiffin doesn't work out at USC or they get hammered by probation, we are going to need some other anchor opponents on the schedule. No offense to Pitt or Stanford, but no one is going to be singing our praises for beating those teams. You need 1-2 games a year against top 10 type opponents, and we haven't had enough of those games in recent years.

Anyway, here's what we got in terms of marquee games starting in 2012. I'll assume that 2011 will just feature Michigan and USC since it's highly unlikely that we get a 3rd marquee game for that year.

2012 - Michigan, Oklahoma, USC, Miami
2013 - Michigan, USC, Oklahoma
2014 - Michigan, USC, Miami
2015 - Michigan, USC
2016 - Michigan, USC, Miami

I mean, that's really starting to look like something there. The 2012 schedule is probably the best and most interesting schedule we've played since the Holtz era. Think about some of the road trips there. You got a possible trip to Normanto see ND-OU, the annual trip out to SC, and a neutral site Miami game at Soldier Field. Plus, Navy in Dublin! That is how it is done as an independent. If we run the table against that schedule, there isn't a question that we'd be the #1 team in the nation. Even 11-1 would garner massive national respect.

And those 2013, 2014, and 2016 schedules look great too. Maybe we line up a home and home starting in 2015 with an SEC team or Texas, and we'd pretty much be in great shape in terms of heavyweights.

I'm all for playing heavyweights. I think we should play a minimum of 3, but I'm ok with occasionally lining up 4 if we can make it work.

ND should always have a top 10-20 schedule, and I'm fine with occasionally playing the toughest schedule in the nation. Memories are made in the big games. No one cares if you've beaten UConn. But if you go on the road to Norman and win, you've made a statement to the nation.

2) Great use of the neutral site to get a good October/November game

If we're going to play a neutral site game every year, I'm glad to see that we are finally starting to make good use of it. The neutral site thing has gained popularity in recent years, and lots of schools have done a good job scheduling marquee games in neutral sites. Bama-VT in the Georgia Dome, Bama-FSU in Jacksonville, etc. Split the gate, gets fans from both sides, and create a true big time atmosphere that resembles an in-season bowl game.

That's the type of model that I hope this ND-Miami game takes on. I gotta think NBC is ecstatic about this announcement. Instead of being forced to trot out these dog games in primetime like Washington State in the Alamo Dome, they get a huge ND-Miami game to promote and hype as a true marquee event.

The other thing is that it looks like the Miami game will alleviate some of our late season scheduling problems.

Look no further than these 5 game stretches from 2009-2011 to reflect this recent problem we've had in terms of scheduling:

O31 - Washington State (San Antonio)
N7 - Navy
N14 - at Pitt
N21 - UConn
N28 - at Stanford

O16 - Western Michigan
O23 - at Navy
O30 - Tulsa
N13 - Utah
N20 - Army (New York)

O29 - Navy
N5 - UConn
N12 - Maryland (DC)
N19 - TBD
N26 - at Stanford

In October and November when your team should hopefully be peaking and showing the world that you are playing your best football, the Kevin White scheduling model set us up with a pupu platter of "buy games," bad neutral site games, and middling opponents. Everyone around the country is gearing up for rivalry games and conference championship games, and we're lining up a big tilt against Tulsa in front of 60,000 half-asleep fans who probably picked their tickets up on the ground in the parking lot five minutes before the game. And people wonder why ND football has had an enthusiasm problem in the last decade??

Anyway, it looks like these Miami games are all going to be somewhere in October, which is a nice fit in the "even" years (2012, 2014, 2016) when we play USC on the road in the last game of the year. That gives us a big game in September, October, and November. And in 2012, we have two big games in September with Oklahoma on the schedule. That's pretty good balance there.

3) Swarbrick taking charge and distancing himself from the Kevin White era

Maybe the biggest thing about this announcement from a philosophical standpoint is that it is becoming more and more clear that Jack Swarbrick does not subscribe to the same model for scheduling that Kevin White did. Honestly, that might even be bigger for me than the actual game itself.

Kevin White worshiped at the altar of revenue generation. He ran ND like NBC runs its network. Just throw as much crap as you can out there, and people will watch/attend because they're suckers. Sort of like the George Costanza line: "Because it's on tv!" Kevin White seemed to believe that ND fans would sell out every game no matter what game it was, which led to 7-4-1 and the crappy "buy games" and neutral site games like WSU and Baylor in New Orleans (which thankfully got axed by Swarbrick). Short term revenue generation trumped all other considerations. Much like NBC's business model, Kevin White's plan was a complete disaster. Empty seats galore for November home games, tepid interest, and horrific ratings for the Washington State neutral site game.

I don't think people around the country realize just how easy it has been to get ND tickets in the last few years. I'm not even joking in saying that you could literally walk around in the parking lot ten minutes before the game and pick up tickets to all but 1-2 home games a year for far less than face value. And for the Syracuse/UConn type tilts in November, you could probably find tickets lying on the ground outside the stadium. Part of it is the team's play, but the schedule didn't help at all.

Swarbrick apparently has a different philosophy for scheduling. It was tough to tell in the early stages of his tenure and things started looking downright scary when we lined up Western Michigan and Tulsa and started hearing things like "we want to play Duke and Wake Forest because they are schools that feel like us," but the picture has become more clear now that he is finally getting an opportunity to put his stamp on the athletic department.

The 7-4-1 appears to be going away, which will lead to better home and home opportunities later in the year. Instead of having to find someone for a "buy game" in November, we can offer up a home and home spot to someone. Looks like Miami might be that team in 2014 and 2016.

Anyone who has been following this stuff knew that it was not as hard as the Whites and Heislers were making it out to be. When ND has a sensible scheduling policy, teams will line up to play us. We knew it all along, and it turns out the fans/alums were right. White and Heisler loved to set up the "internet crazies" strawmen arguments and complain that ND fans were too demanding and that we all wanted top 10 teams every week. Of course, that was all a bunch of nonsense. There wasn't one ND fan that wanted a schedule like that. Not one. ND fans just wanted to make sure that our schedules passed the "look test" in the eyes of the college football world. We wanted variety, 3-4 high quality games, and good balance. The Miami announcement goes a long way toward accomplishing that.

For my money, Kevin White's tenure at ND was the biggest disaster in the history of ND sports (worse than Willingham in my opinion), and Friday's announcement only solidified that feeling for me. If he had stayed on at ND for another 3-4 years, I think he would have done irreparable harm to the ND brand and probably would have forced us into a conference because fans would have been so desperate to get better games on the schedule that we would have accepted anything.

Anyway, I'm ready to finally put the Kevin White era to rest, and this Miami series finally serves as an opportunity to turn the page on his disastrous tenure at ND. We are still digging out of the mess Kevin White created with the 2010 and 2011 schedules, but the light at the end of the tunnel is there starting in 2012.

Friday was a watershed moment in the Jack Swarbrick era as far as I'm concerned. I've been a little wary of him thus far, but he has really done a great job in the last six months or so. The Maryland game was a solid announcement, the Brian Kelly hire was fantastic, he has handled the ND independence/Big Ten discussions well, and this Miami series is a sign that he understands the importance of putting together high-quality schedules going forward. Swarbrick seems to view ND football like the fans do. Be independent, play quality schedules, and play great football on the field. Ultimately, that is what the fans care about.

4) It's a sign that ND is sticking to a plan for independence.

Speaking of independence, how can you not view this announcement as a great sign that ND has no intentions to join a conference anytime soon?? Why would we sign up for this series if Big Ten membership was imminent??

This is practically a shot across the bow of Jim Delany and friends. All the media hacks who have been practically writing obituaries on ND's independence in the last month must have been in shock when this announcement came across the AP wire.

I think the perception nationally has been that independence was increasingly becoming less viable as an option for the ND football program. The money wasn't as good, the schedules were looking more and more like something that a mid-major would play, and it seemed like conference expansion would leave us on the outside looking in if we didn't make a move to join a league.

This Miami series seems perfectly timed to counter that sentiment. If we can still schedule these types of games, why would we want to join a conference??

ND's independence is still an asset as far as I'm concerned. We are the only school in the country that can play around the country against any team at any point in the season. That is something worth preserving.

Brian Kelly echoed that sentiment with his thoughts on ND's independence:

"From my standpoint, being the head football coach at Notre Dame, there's nothing better than being an independent football school,” he said, eliciting a roar from the gathering of roughly 300 people.

"I know you're hearing all these rumors about the Big Ten and all these other things, but let me tell you one thing, the history ... the tradition of Notre Dame football is steeped in that independence.”

He's 100% right. ND football wouldn't be ND football without independence. We're a national brand. Moving to a conference would hurt the brand, hurt recruiting, and diminish overall interest in the program.

Circumstances with the BCS or a playoff might eventually force us into a league, but for now, we should be doing everything possible to strengthen our position as an independent. Lining up great intersectional matchups with a team like Miami is a great start in accomplishing that goal.

5) A look-ahead at the 2012-2016 schedules

With the addition of Miami, let's take a peek at what we have so far with the 2012-2016 schedules.


09/01 - Navy (Dublin, Ireland)
09/08 - PURDUE
09/15 - at Michigan State
09/22 - MICHIGAN
09/29 -
10/06 -
10/13 -
10/27 - at Oklahoma
11/10 - ARMY
11/24 - at Southern Cal
TBA - Miami (Soldier Field)

This schedule is pretty close to being set. 4 heavyweights, 3 true road games (Navy being the fourth), 5 home games. You figure we are going to try to find two more home games to round out the 12 game schedule since we're still under a 7-4-1 model that year.

Plug Miami in there on October 6, add a couple Tulsa/Vandy/Duke type teams for 09/29 and 10/13 to give us a breather after the Michigan and Miami games, and that's a heckuva schedule. 4 big games, 4 mid-level games, and 4 lighter games. Perfect.


S7 @Michigan
S14 @Purdue
S21 Michigan State
S28 Oklahoma
O5 Arizona State (neutral)
O19 Southern Cal
O26 Connecticut
N2 Navy
N9 @Pittsburgh
N30 @Stanford

This schedule looks pretty good right now as well. 3 heavyweights and a loaded stretch from Michigan to USC that should prove our mettle one way or the other.

Assuming that we play Stanford at the end of the year (I have no reason to think that series is off any time soon), we have our 4 road games covered under the 7-4-1 policy. And we have the Arizona State game in Dallas.

Probably two more home games to line up. One should be a cupcake for the opener, but I'd love to see us snatch up a decent ACC team for November. Maybe somebody like North Carolina in a home game. And then we could play them at their place some time after 2015 when it looks like we might go to more of a 6-5-1 policy.


6-Sep A Navy
13-Sep H Purdue
20-Sep H Michigan
27-Sep N Syracuse
11-Oct N Army
18-Oct H Connecticut
25-Oct A Arizona State
8-Nov H Pittsburgh
29-Nov A Southern Cal
TBA - Miami (home)

Gotta think the Miami game will be in that October 4 spot.

I'm curious to see if Michigan State and Stanford are on the schedule in 2014. I'd be all for taking a break from one or both of those teams, especially Stanford. In fact, I'd use that Stanford spot for the above-mentioned North Carolina series. Maybe play a road game at UNC or Georgia Tech that year.


S5 Missouri
S12 @Michigan
S19 @Purdue
O10 Navy
O17 Southern Cal
O24 Connecticut
N14 @Pittsburgh
N21 Syracuse

Here's where we might have an opportunity to schedule a big time SEC or Big 12 team. Texas??

Ideally, some heavyweight would agree to play us in November in the years when USC plays in South Bend in October. Don't know if Texas would agree to that or not, but we should throw it out there. If not, talk to Tennessee or LSU and see if they'd be willing to play us in November like they've done in the past.

I could understand why an SEC team wouldn't play us in November, but what is holding back Texas from doing it?? Their one marquee game of the year is in October against Oklahoma. I know A&M is one of their big games, but it seems like there is room for Texas to play another quality team in November.


3-Sep N Syracuse
10-Sep H Michigan
17-Sep H Stanford
24-Sep A Michigan State
1-Oct H Purdue
15-Oct A Navy
29-Oct H Pittsburgh
12-Nov H Connecticut
19-Nov A Army
26-Nov A Southern Cal
TBA - Miami (Away)

This schedule looks pretty good as well in terms of quality. The third heavyweight game really makes a big difference. If you plug that Miami game in for October 22, we'd have a pretty balanced schedule for the most part.

This is the first year where we might be able to back out of the 7-4-1 arrangement and go to a 6-5-1 format. It'll be interesting to see if we actually schedule true road games or if we are just using the new 6-5-1 to play "road" games at neutral sites. I see that we're supposed to play Army and Navy on the "road" in 2016, but those aren't really true road games.

Personally, I'd rather just do a straight 7-5 arrangement. Play 7 home games and 5 true road games. If we're going to play at a neutral site, then just play a cupcake like Army and save our true road games for decent competition.

6) What else can be done to improve future schedules??

Two things I'd like to continue to focus on now that we appear to be addressing the "heavyweights" problem:

1) More variety on the second tier games (Stanford, MSU, Purdue, Pitt, UConn) -- I'd try to take occasional breaks in all these series to get a few ACC or Big 12 or different Pac 10 teams. Heck, even West Virginia would be a welcome change. Or Wisconsin or Iowa or somebody like that.

2) Focus on November -- November is where you make your push. We should really be doing more to get better balance in the schedule. We play this gauntlet in September, but no one remembers it when we're closing down the year with all the service academies.

I'd really be pushing to get Purdue/MSU to the back end of the schedule and maybe one other decent home and home series in there. Maybe even somebody like Ole Miss or Arkansas or South Carolina. All those teams would probably love to accomodate ND to get on our schedule.

Plus, pushing better games to the end of the year gives us more breathing room early on. If we could move some better games to November, we could play a couple cupcakes in September to get the team's feet wet a little bit.

Here would be a couple sample schedules from me on that front:


3-Sep N Syracuse
10-Sep H Michigan
17-Sep H Vanderbilt
24-Sep H Army
1-Oct H Purdue
8-Oct A Miami (FL)
15-Oct A Navy
22-Oct Bye
29-Oct H Pittsburgh
5-Nov H West Virginia
12-Nov A Michigan State
19-Nov H Arkansas
26-Nov A Southern Cal

That's a 7-4-1 schedule right there, but I really like how that looks. Just moving that Sparty game to November and exchanging UConn and Stanford with West Virginia and Arkansas makes a big difference in terms of perception. That would be one heckuva schedule. And not impossible either because the beginning of the schedule is much easier with really only one tough game in September.

We could follow it up in 2017 with this:

A31 Duke
S7 @Michigan
S14 Navy
S21 @Purdue
S28 Rice
O5 Texas
O12 Syracuse (N)
O26 Southern Cal
N9 @Pittsburgh
N16 @ West Virginia
N23 @ Arkansas
N30 Michigan State

Instead of playing Navy and Army in November, we'd have Arkansas and Michigan State. Sure it's a little backloaded with three road games in November, but think about how people would view this program if we ran the table down the stretch. That would be a really nice finish.


Anonymous said...

ND needs to win. Schedules are not the problem and never have been. Winning is EVERYTHING. I also don't think Kevin White was all that terrible, nor have our schedules been that bad. Our on-field performance was that bad. Kevin White has simply been an uber-scapegoat for ND fans looking for something to cling to other than all that losing. Maybe the 7-4-1 paradigm was shortsighted and White had less faith in our football fortunes than was appropriate for an AD at a place with the tradition and expectations of ND. But the losing was the problem, it alwayws was and always will be. I have no particular love (or hate) for Kevin White and I like Swarbrick a lot, if for no other reason than he hired Brian Kelly, who I had been pining for for over two years, ever since the '07 season. But he was not the problem, the losing was.

That said, I'm glad to see the Miami game being added has transpired and am looking forward to it. Agreed that it's a great "neutral-site" game, although I don't quite see how a game played at Soldier field, in Chicago, involving ND, against Miami of all opponents, is neutral. There's nothing neutral about it, at least from Miami's perspective. LOL!

Craig said...

White really was all that terrible. He had a few good moments (by some accounts, was pushing for the right people when we got stuck with Ty, hiring Jeff Jackson for hockey), but was a feckless administrator for football and clueless at fundraising for big projects (which screwed over basketball and nearly screwed over hockey as well).