Dec. 20, 2013
An interview with:
JOHN HEISLER: We're here to talk about future football schedules. Jack Swarbrick is here to walk you through what we've been working on for the better part of the last year.
JACK SWARBRICK: Thanks for being here. A long time coming here, I know. I'll miss all of you calling me and asking me where the football schedules are - at least for a few years.
Everybody who sort of made a major move has been in a position where they've swapped a conference schedule for a conference schedule. This presented us with a very different opportunity. We had years where we had as many as 16 games under contract once we took the ACC commitment. So you had to step back and ask yourself, How are we going to make decisions here? What do we want to achieve?
What I'd like you to do is take you through those goals and talk about how the schedule which has been distributed reflects the achievement of those goals. With that, we'll start going through them.
For our community, it's important. For the hotels, restaurants who rely depend on Notre Dame for business, the unbalanced schedule is a difference maker. So, again, it was important to maintain.
And for our partners, we've made a commitment to our broadcast partner, for example, that we will provide seven broadcast opportunities. So we had to do this.
Our independence uniquely assists us in that regard. As conferences go to nine game schedules, in the years in which you have five away games if you're a conference member, it's much harder to maintain the unbalanced schedule. This, of course, is the convention of the industry.
Among the schools, the 65 schools, the five largest conferences, all of them pursue this. In fact, there were quite a few schools as I reviewed last year's schedule who out of conference never played an away game. They had their entire slate of non conference games at home.
It's an industry convention, everyone tries to do it. I think we're uniquely enabled to do it because of independence, so we have to take advantage of it, have to deliver on it, and we have to do it, and we have.
The next one is satisfaction of our ACC commitment, of course, a commitment we are thrilled to embrace and have. Two points I'd make about it.
As we go through the remainder of these goals, what you will see is virtually all of them have been enabled by that ACC commitment, not restrained by it.
Secondly, I would note that the complexity of this process is hard to overstate. We probably went through several hundred iterations of this schedule. Every time we went back to our partners at the ACC and said, How about this change, they could not have been more accommodating.
My thanks to the staff of the ACC and especially our partner schools in the ACC. We kept changing this thing and they kept rolling with the punches. If they hadn't been that flexible, we wouldn't have gotten where we are.
Third scheduling goal, continue the Shamrock Series. When we began this, we thought it was an interesting experiment. What it has become is a remarkable success story for the University and for our football program.
I have more people now ask me where the Shamrock Series game will be in a future year than any other question I get. They're starting to plan their schedules around it. They love attending this game. We love what it does, where it takes us, iconic cities and venues all across the country. It so enables our overall goals for this program, it's hard to overstate.
In the future, we are going to continue to evolve the Shamrock Series. We'll add more to the Shamrock Series that serve the university and the football program. I'll take you through the future scheduling matrix in a minute.
Next one, control the calendar. There's several elements to this. But, again, our independence, our ability to take this overall look at our schedule and step back and say, What do we want to do, helped enable us.
We want to play on Saturday. That's increasingly rare in our business. We want to play in well positioned spots on Saturday. We're in prime time more than anybody else when you consider how many of our away games get moved to prime time. We'll average, between the Shamrock Series and home night games we move, five of our own games every two years. Every two years, five games will be in prime time.
But when we're not, we want a window. We want 3:30 on Saturday. We want you to find us. e don't want to bounce around to different nights. Wherever our audience comes from all around the world, it doesn't work for us to play mid week games, Thursday night games. We'll do some of that on the road for sure. But when we're playing here, we want to control that.
An important part of controlling the calendar, again the flexibility we have because we're managing this process, is controlling where the byes are placed. That's a strategic element for us. What is best for our student athletes? How do we help them from a preparation and a welfare perspective to make sure we're giving them the best experience we can?
Next, preserve important rivalries. This, of course, has gotten the most attention as elements of the schedule have played out over time. I certainly understand it.
There's been a lot of angst associated with it, but from my perspective it's all good because there have been schedule changes all over college football in the past five years, left and right. With all the conference realignment that's been going on, nobody has engendered the sort of reaction we have when we made the changes we had to make to fit all this together.
I can't think of a higher form of flattery for Notre Dame football, that people got so upset at the prospect of losing games with us. It speaks to the power of the brand and the experience and the fact that their ticket prices are different for our visit, that they have fundraising campaigns built around our business.
I understand their anxiety. I understand why they're disappointed why we can't play them on a regular basis in the future. So there's a positive side to that.
Notwithstanding that, we share their views that these rivalries are important. We had to ask ourselves, How do we order them? Which are the most important to us? In preserving the rivalries, we wound up with two different categories. One were the rivalries we wanted to maintain on an annual basis. Leading that for us was USC. The history of that game, the number of Heisman Trophy winners that have played in it, the number of national championships which the winner has come out of that game, the length of that rivalry, the intersectional nature of it, makes it unique for us. So that was first.
You could only maintain that rivalry and meet our objectives as the scheduling requirements of the USC and PAC 12 if you paired it with another PAC 12 school. The logical partner for us was Stanford, a school that hits so many markers for us in terms of a rival.
It's interesting when people talk strength of schedule, who is on our schedule, who is not, how often they don't mention Stanford.
Not only did they help us from a scheduling perspective, get us to California every year, allow the PAC 12 to balance their schedule, they hit our other markers as well.
Then the third is Navy. Navy has everything to do with the story of the relationship between the two universities. It has little to do with football. That's what Notre Dame football does: it serves the interest of the University.
For the ones that couldn't make that list, valuable rivals to be sure, schools we have enormous respect for and enjoy playing, our goal was to figure out ways to play them occasionally. As you see in the schedule, that's what we're doing. We're trying to figure out how to make that happen.
Next, maximize geographic reach. Fundamental to Notre Dame football. We play coast to coast. Jesse Harper made that decision a hundred years ago. It changed the trajectory of the football program and the University, and we're not going to stray from it. We're going to stay connected to that. That's important. We wanted to make sure the schedule achieves that.
Now, I've used a different sort of window in my analysis than John did in the press release. I think he used six years. I'm looking at a four year window because that's what our student athletes experience, what happens in a four year period of time, what is their experience.
In the four year period of time, from '13 to '16, the focus of what we're talking about today, we will play in nine of the 12 largest cities in the United States. The only three we won't play in during that four year period of time, Chicago we were just in and will be in again, Miami just doesn't happen to fall in the four year period of time but we will visit, and that leaves only Houston as a top 12 market that this schedule doesn't get us to, so we'll be looking to get to Houston. We'll be in nine of the ten largest Catholic communities in the United States, consistent with this University and its mission.
Of course, we'll be coast to coast. Syracuse will take us to the Meadowlands. We'll be in San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. We'll be as far south as Miami. We'll be around the country. Notre Dame football has to do that.
Next we want to play in special places. When we're not here, the most special place in the world to play football, we want to take our student athletes to other special places. You have seen us do that with the Shamrock Series. The opponents we've scheduled help us do that, whether it's the Coliseum in Los Angeles, extraordinary venue, or taking the Shamrock Series game not merely to Boston but to Fenway Park and being the first school to play a football game there in 45 years. We want to take our young people to special places.
We want to maintain the strength of schedule. Our strength of schedule has held up very well in recent years. We want to continue that. We, like everyone else, believe that is of special importance going forward in the new college playoff model. It will be a factor of significance to the Selection Committee.
John has given you some statistics. You can analyze the schedule for yourself. But just focusing on '14, next year's schedule, I'd put that schedule from a strength of schedule perspective against any school in the country.
Of the final BCS rankings for this year, our 2014 schedule includes three of the top five schools in the BCS rankings. It includes six of the top 25. Half of our schools are ranked in the top 25 of the BCS rankings this year. Others on that schedule appeared in the BCS rankings during the year but aren't in the final ones.
Part of the room we needed to clear in the decisions we were making relative to the schools we wouldn't be able to continue to play on a regular basis, but to create that future opportunity for us, to make sure that we're able to say we covered the waterfront of conferences in the way we built our schedule, so when that Selection Committee is evaluating us against other conferences, it has a marker to do that with.
I would suspect that virtually all of these are criteria that you probably anticipated. The next one you might not have, and it's the most important one to me, the one I am most proud of our achievement on, that is to play like institutions.
There are 18 FBS schools in the U.S. News and World Report top 50. Our schedule in this four year period, we will play seven of those top 10. Of the top 10 rated FBS academic institutions, according to U.S. News and World Report, we will play seven of them. Over the course of the schedule, we'll play 11 of the total 18 that are in the top 50.
Again, I think that's unique in college football. I'm especially proud that with all the other things we were balancing, making sure it's a great schedule, making sure we get around the country, honoring rivalries, satisfying our commitments, we could still find a way to do this, because it's one of the things that distinguishes Notre Dame football.
So those are the criteria or goals we used. It produces these building blocks, of course. The five ACC games, always two home, always two away, the swing game of home or away, then USC, Stanford or Navy. In a sense you might say we're in a situation comparable to a conference team who has an eight game conference schedule.
Outside of that we'll do the Shamrock Series game and the extra home game that allows us to produce the unbalanced schedule. Critical to achieving that. This, of course, is a game where your opponent does not expect a return visit. Some of you write and refer to them as a bye game. That leaves us, as you look at these building blocks, with one home and one away to play with on a regular basis.
Looking at how that plays out in '14, '15 and '16, you have the schedule on a calendar basis in front of you, this reflects it on the building block basis.
Sort of the last piece of the puzzle in achieving the result we needed to achieve here, in order to keep Northwestern on the schedule, in '14 was to play four ACC, six in '15 and five in '16, rather than 5 5 5. In order to do that Wake Forest moved from '14 to '15 and we used Boston College as a Shamrock Series game.
Just as an aside here, a lot of people helped us in this process. You learn a lot about your colleagues in this process. Nobody helped us more than Ron Wellman who dug in and became somebody who said, Let me try to help you figure this out, had to do a whole lot of things on his end to make this happen, but reflective of how our ACC colleagues generally approached this. So with that we were able to achieve the necessary balance.
A word about the Shamrock Series games. The Shamrock Series games work best for us when you can clearly articulate the theme or purpose around them. Next year is pretty obvious. Going to our state capital, the university who is increasingly growing in its research capabilities, increasingly engaged in partnership with the state's other research institutions, a great opportunity to celebrate all of that, by going to what I think is one of the great venues in America, without question one of the great festival areas, why Indy hosts so many Final Fours.
Boston, celebrating the Irish Catholic tradition of Notre Dame and of course our strong East Coast presence playing in an iconic venue, I think that's going to be an incredibly special evening when we are there.
Then finally one that we came to late but really got enthused about as we figured it out, and that's Army at San Antonio on Veterans Day weekend, a city that has among the largest military presence in the United States, to really celebrate the fundamental notion of God, country, Notre Dame that's built into the fabric of this University and to celebrate the service of military personnel and all they do for this country.
Each game carries a theme. Each game takes us to a different part of the country. Like Indianapolis, San Antonio is an extraordinary environment to celebrate, to have a gathering like this, so that will be great.
The other two reflect another factor that will be important for us, has been important and will be important in the bye games. We like to play our family. Coach Molnar at UMass, Coach Polian at Nevada. As our coaches move around, you can anticipate future games that might be down the line here.
We want to use that not just to fill a slot but to fill one of the others criteria we have in what we're trying to achieve here.
Then the home and away dynamic. The conclusion of the current Michigan series, the second part of the ASU home and away from last year, having them in the Shamrock Series game, the Texas pairing which has been announced before, and then Michigan State. Temple was a game we were excited about and didn't want to lose because its takes us to Philadelphia, an NFL venue, part of a two for one scheduling dynamic that helps make this work also.
From the building block perspective, that's how we produced the schedule you see in calendar form.
Let me take you out a little further so you can anticipate and understand some of the challenges or the elements that we'll be dealing with in the future.
We actually know, although we're not sharing them today, we actually have penciled in the ACC opponents all the way through '22 in our discussions with the ACC, subject to change as those schools' schedules get ironed out. That's why we're not showing them today. But that piece of it is well set.
You could have penciled the Navy, USC and Stanford sequence as they go out. The three Shamrock Series games which we've announced today, the home games. But the thing really to focus on here is scheduling dynamics going forward in that we don't have away game inventory right now to offer anybody as part of a home and home until effectively '22. There's a two in this column because we still have two contracts and eight teams. One of them will stay in this slot. We'll likely move the other one here as an away game.
But as we're contemplating future home and home relationships, the first time you start to get clean slates where you compare a home game here with an away game here happens in '22.
Working our way through this, paying forward the Temple game, matching up the Michigan State, resolving the Purdue situation, used up a lot of inventory. It's one of the reasons the Shamrock Series games are going to be so critical for us. With the limited away game inventory for us, we're going to focus on these to pick up some of those rivals we can't play on a regular basis, to hopefully get ourselves with SEC opponents, to do the various scheduling things that we need to achieve as part of that.
With that I think I've gotten through all I want to, so I'll open it up to questions.
Q. Jack, 2015, looks like the first time in a hundred years there's no Big Ten team on the schedule. How much is that a product of them going to a nine game conference schedule? How much of it is just expanding beyond the Midwest states for recruiting?
Q. You mentioned the opportunity for Miami or Connecticut to be on the future schedule.
Q. When you talked about bye weeks, strategically placing them, are you specifically looking around midterm week or before a game such as a Florida State or a USC?
Q. You mentioned you wanted to add more elements to the Shamrock Series games. Can you share some of those that you plan to do?
Q. A few years ago there was a game in Soldier Field that was really pretty awkward in terms of being able to fit an actual football field in there. Were there any unique challenges of getting football back into Fenway, dimension problems?
Q. Do you envision the SEC being Shamrock Series games rather than home and homes? Is it more realistic?
Q. I see in the release the Michigan game is going to be a night game next year. Are you comfortable keeping one South Bend or one Notre Dame stadium game (indiscernible) prime time beyond those windows?
Q. The ACC, does it make it easier to do that? What control do you have of the bye home games?
Q. In what time span?
Q. (No microphone.)
Q. (No microphone.)
Q. (No microphone.)
Q. Any kind of vague timetable?
Q. The ACC has had a lot of success with their Monday Labor Day games, also the Thursday ones. Did they ask if you were open to that at all?
Q. (No microphone.)
Q. (No microphone.)
Q. (No microphone.)
Q. What is the nature of the BYU agreement? Has that changed now?
Q. Jack, I don't know if you said it or how it came out. It sounded like New York was another option to return for the Shamrock Series. Did the Pinstripe Bowl have any effect on that?
Q. With Fenway, you talked about the playing field, restrictions you overcame. What kind of challenges are there with taking your show to a stadium that seats probably half of what you normally play in front of?
JOHN HEISLER: Thank you.