Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick responded to critics of Notre Dame’s scheduling philosophies in a report released Friday by the Associated Press. Irish fans have been critical of Notre Dame’s slate of games in 2009, but the new Irish AD thinks Notre Dame’s schedule in 2009 stands up well against other top teams.
Swarbrick’s argument that this year’s schedule is not soft revolves around the overall average ranking of Notre Dame’s opponents compared to other schools. He pointed out that Notre Dame’s average opponent rank is competitive with other teams and in that argument he is correct. The problem for Irish fans, however, is that while the overall average rank might not be off base, the schedule lacks big games that make the trek to South Bend worthwhile.
When you look at Notre Dame’s schedule as a whole, there are only two games from teams outside the BCS conferences – Navy and Nevada – and neither of them are considered complete cupcakes. While the Irish are scheduling opponents from the major conferences, some of those opponents are looking like cellar dwellers in their respected leagues this year. Washington, Washington State, UConn, Purdue and even Boston College and Michigan aren’t expected to do a whole lot on the field this year.
In short, there are a lot of average games this year. Considering Notre Dame’s national fan base, it makes it tough for fans to get excited about making long trips to South Bend when there’s only one ranked team coming into Notre Dame Stadium all season long.
Not all of criticisms regarding the schedule are warranted or under Swarbrick’s control. If you look at this year’s schedule historically, this schedule could be described as daunting in other years. Opponents such as Michigan, Boston College, Purdue, and Washington have historically been strong programs. Even a school like UConn has very recently been considered a pretty tough opponent. With college schedules being put in place so far in advance, situations like this year’s schedule are not necessarily avoidable.
It’s also not as if Notre Dame is scheduling Division IAA schools or tiny directional schools. Notre Dame is scheduling legit programs that for the most part have rich college football histories. People don’t seem to be harping on Penn State’s schedule even though they will be hosting Division IAA Eastern Illinois or on Florida’s even though the Gators have Charleston Southern, Troy, and Florida International all visiting Gainesville this season.
Where Notre Dame fans’ real problem lies with the Irish schedule is the 7-4-1 philosophy. Swarbrick also defended the 7-4-1 philosophy that was put into practice by former AD Kevin White in the report stating that it gives Notre Dame fans more chances to see the Irish at home each year. While this is true, the real problem lies with that 1 in the formula.
Having a neutral site game each year in itself isn’t a bad thing. Giving Notre Dame fans around the country more chances to see the Fighting Irish in person is actually a very good thing. When that neutral site game has to be considered a home game is where it starts to handcuff Notre Dame’s scheduling opportunities. Because the neutral site game needs to be considered a home game for TV purposes, it really limits the potential matchups. Take this year’s Washington State game. It is being played in San Antonio because TV contracts prevent a Pac 10 school from playing a game in Pac 10 territory that isn’t a true road game that is televised on a network outside of their TV agreements.
Now, if the neutral site game didn’t have to be considered a home game, then Notre Dame could play a Alabama in the Georgia Dome, a Texas in the new Cowboys Stadium, or maybe a Virginia Tech in FedEx Field. While all of these matchups might be pipe dreams, they are matchups that Notre Dame fans would love to see take place.
Swarbrick is in a tough situation here since the schedules for this year and the immediate future were largely built by his predecessor, and at the same time he also needs to defend Notre Dame and its philosophies when they are being criticized. It’s his job to defend Notre Dame publically whenever necessary. What he really thinks of the Notre Dame future schedules we’ll soon find out as he looks to fill the remaining holes and secure matchups with teams that will excite Notre Dame fans.
Swarbrick also has to a walk a fine line in scheduling marquee games because of the cyclic nature of some of Notre Dame’s traditional opponents. In any given season the Purdues and Boston Colleges on the schedule could be very tough matchups. It was just two years ago that Boston College walked into Notre Dame Stadium with the nation’s #2 ranking in a game played midway through the season.
Figuring out the best mix between marquee matchups and creating a schedule that makes it possible for Notre Dame to compete for a national championship each season is one of the hardest parts of Swarbrick’s job, and the future opponents he adds to the Irish schedule will reveal what his true thoughts are about Notre Dame’s scheduling philosophies.