Scheduling Notre Dame, Part 1: Who The Irish Play

Like many of us, I want to play Jack Swarbrick and control the scheduling for the Irish. I'd do it for free, too. Almost all of us have to be pretty pleased, however, with the job he is doing, moving away from Kevin White's 7-4-1 model and the commitment for three Big East games per year. The latter was probably more dictated by the rejection by Rutgers and Connecticut of multiple game, long term deals. Yet that opened up the schedule, combining with a 6-5-1 model and backing away from some games with Army, for the home and home game deals with Oklahoma, Texas, Miami and BYU.

Sure, we had trepidations when Washington State was our neutral site game in 2009, when Army was our neutral site game for 2010 and when Western Michigan, Tulsa and Utah were signed for 2010. But Swarbrick needed buy-in games to complete White's failed imitation of most current BCS teams' scheduling. Tulsa and Utah proved stiff competition. The Army game provided a measure of redemption.

In the end, we are Notre Dame - with unique challenges in scheduling as an independent, commitments to our traditional rivals, a national alumni base and national recruiting, and values that must be reflected in our football team. Swarbrick had NBC's contract to please and needed to convince them of the value of only six home games, too. Perhaps switching the USC game this year to a night game is another shrewd move that mitigates the loss of a home game for NBC/Comcast.

So, on a soft night the week prior to our Blue-Gold game, let's look at future scheduling by looking back at the past. Who have we played? Can we come up with trends that transcend individual biases and explain who we will most likely play in the future?

Here is the scheduling for the past twenty-five years:

Notre Dame's Schedule 1986-2010

Traditional Rivals - A Look Back

Tradition is one of those factors for which Notre Dame is known, which includes traditional football rivalries - USC, Navy, Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Boston College. Here is the list of number of games played against each of those rivals and how many times those rivalries saw a hiatus:

Notre Dame's Traditional Rivals

We've played USC, Navy and Purdue continuously for from periods ranging from 55 to over 80 years. Michigan State has had only one two game hiatus since 1948. Both Purdue and Michigan State stood by us when Michigan attempted to blackball us from playing Western Conference/Big Ten competition in the 1920-40s.

Pittsburgh has played the Irish 66 times with interruptions of only ten years total over the past fifty-eight years and only six years since 1982. The Panthers provide a tough Big East opponent who has produced Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, Larry Fitzgerald and Darrell Revis to name just a few. Pennsylvania has numerous Notre Dame alumni clubs, a large following of Irish fans and some valuable recruiting territory. Many Irish players have come from western Pennsylvania.

Michigan resumed their rivalry with Notre Dame in 1978 when the Michigan Athletic Director wanted to fill the Big House with fans since attendance had dropped to 60,000 for games. Over those 33 years, the Wolverines have supplied great games and a powerful opponent with only six years total in hiatus. This year's game with the Irish will be the first night game in Michigan Stadium, featured in prime time. Will the Irish play the Wolverines under the lights next year?

Except for two years, Stanford has played us continuously since 1988. Including Stanford on the schedule provides the Irish with yearly exposure in California, games in the northern part of the state, and some flexibility. With USC's game contracted for mid-October when in South Bend and November in Los Angeles, Stanford has agreed to compliment that schedule.

Boston College is a natural rival as the only other Catholic BCS football school, East coast exposure, and a large alumni and subway alumni base in the region. Except for two years after the Eagles bolted from the Big East, the Irish have played the Eagles continuously since 1992.

Boston College and Stanford also provide opponents with similar values and vision for their football programs with high graduation rates and commitments to their players' education.

Contracts

The Irish will always play USC and Navy annually. Michigan contracted for games through 2031, though leaks suggest it is a verbal contract. Michigan State will be on Notre Dame's schedule through 2025. Pittsburgh is on the schedule through 2016. Purdue is on the schedule through 2015 with reports that the Irish want to then play the Boilermakers every other year. Notre Dame and Boston College have contracted for six games over nine years from 2012 to 2019. Stanford is only on the schedule through 2012. The Notre Dame game for Stanford is their big money-maker, exceeding the Big Game with Cal, and rivaled only by a USC game in Palo Alto.

The new contract with BC opened up three potential future games. What would you do with the schedule for these other rivals? Drop Stanford and play in California every other year? Play Purdue every other year? Would you renew the Pittsburgh contract or drop our only regular Big East opponent?

In addition to Oklahoma, Texas, Miami and BYU, Swarbrick has added three games against Wake Forest, beginning this year, and three games against Temple. Wake and Temple have agreed to two home games for the Irish. The Temple series will have the Irish playing in Philadelphia.

Who would you like to see on the schedule? How would you get a balance of competition, appealing to local alumni and fan support, geography, similar values including graduation rates that evidence commitments to their student/athletes, and home and home opponents with a large stadium? What large venues or neutral sites would you like to see the Irish play?

Here are lists of the BCS and non-BCS opponents (outside of those rivals listed above) that the Irish have scheduled in the past twenty-five years:

BCS Opponents, 1986-2010, Non-BCS Opponents, 1986-2010.

With my next article, I'll discuss further those factors that play into Notre Dame scheduling.

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