Scheduling Notre Dame's future games involves consideration of a number of factors, starting with balancing traditional rivals with other teams. Usually, the Irish play six to eight rivals per year. In only two of the past twenty-five years have the Irish played less than six rivals - 1995 (4) and 1996 (5). Annual rivals bring a stability which must be balanced with a flexibility to introduce other exciting games into the schedule. Imagine an independent Notre Dame trying to schedule seven or eight games each year on top of rivalry scheduling. The last three years and for the next two years, Notre Dame plays all eight of its rivals. After that, much may soon change.
The contract with Stanford is up after 2012. Notre Dame will have a two year hiatus (2013-14) with Boston College with the contract ending after 2016. Purdue's contract runs through 2015 and reports are that Notre Dame wants an every other year series after that. Pitt's contract ends after 2016.
The Big Ten will switch to a nine game conference schedule, which may affect Michigan's series with Notre Dame. Michigan's Athletic Director has recently stated he needs to have seven home games a year and that the Big Ten conference schedule will have alternately four and five home games every other year. While Notre Dame could fill that fifth home game slot, what if Wolverine schedule needs would require the Irish to play USC and Michigan away in the same year? Plus Michigan wants to play some games in Florida and has the flexibility in the contract with Notre Dame to take hiatuses.
Scheduling Notre Dame becomes a bit like playing chess with pieces that move in and out of the game.
Penn State has played Notre Dame only twice since giving up their independence and starting Big Ten conference play in 1993 and only then because the Irish opened up September games slots. Miami has not played Notre Dame in a regular season game since joining a conference in 1991.
A number of factors lead to opponents being scheduled with the Irish.
Balance, Competition and Big East Demands
Kevin White exited for Duke having committed to eight rivals with home and home schedules, three Big East games yearly, and a 7-4-1 schedule that left no room for further home and home games. Jack Swarbrick inherited a schedule that was seriously out of balance not only in flexibility but which threatened to continually weaken the Big Ten prototypical schedule.
As Rutgers and then Connecticut reneged on multiple year contracts in large venues, a 6-5-1 schedule with just two Big East games seemed possible. Announcing the scheduling of Oklahoma, Texas, Miami, and BYU instead put some muscle back into future Irish schedules. Conference expansion and Kevin White's vision were in the back mirror.
Yet the internal schedule imbalance which had three September games against Big Ten opponents (sometimes Purdue would play the first week in October) and the uniqueness that scheduled USC at home in mid-October every other year while playing in Los Angeles in late November remained. A Stanford team that has challenged for the Pac 10 title the last couple of years has played in South Bend in early October.
An Irish schedule that is the mirror of conference school's schedules with the most difficult games in the first half of the season, especially when USC plays at home, remains. Will Purdue or Stanford play later in the season?
National scheduling not only avoids regionalization and becoming ensnared with one or two conferences but also continues the tradition of an independent Notre Dame playing coast to coast. A national alumni, fan base and recruiting benefit from such scheduling.
The near future for the Irish under White looked like a pull between joining the Big East or the Big Ten, who together would have made up half the independent Irish's schedule. Fast forward to 2011 and Notre Dame's future schedule has moved into the Sun Belt. Swarbrick added the two toughest teams in the Southwest - Oklahoma and Texas. He scheduled games in Chicago (2012) and in south Florida with Miami (2016) and has a neutral site game with Army in Orlando (2014).
Notre Dame will play twice this year in the Mid-Atlantic areas with games at Wake Forest and in Landover at Fed Ex Field against Maryland. Future games at BYU and Air Force give them Mountain Time Zone presence. Another Mountain Time Zone team, Arizona State, will be Notre Dame's "home" game in 2013 at Arlington in Cowboy's Stadium, the week after Oklahoma plays ND in South Bend, and in Arizona in 2014.
The Irish are coming to Philadelphia against Temple (2014) when Pittsburgh plays in South Bend that year. The New Jersey/New York area will see Syracuse play the Irish in the new Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ (also in 2014).
The Irish will even play internationally next year in Dublin against Navy at Croke Stadium, which now has a capacity of 92,000.
The Irish's schedules past and future include some of the largest stadiums in the nation with some notable exceptions. Notre Dame has not played in Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium, nor at Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Arkansas and last played at Wisconsin in 1964, at California in 1965 and at Iowa in 1968. Perhaps Wisconsin and Iowa have had scheduling preferences or conflicts or perhaps Notre Dame has preferred to play Ohio State or Penn State when they have had Big Ten openings in the schedule. Only if Stanford drops off the schedule could a game at Cal-Berkeley become feasible.
As far as the SEC teams are concerned, Georgia plays out of the South, though Alabama has just begun opening their out of conference games up with an away game against Penn State at State College this year. Florida, Auburn and Arkansas do not venture far.
The Southeastern Conference
In the last thirteen years, only one SEC team, Tennessee, has scheduled home and home games with Notre Dame. Only three SEC teams - also including Alabama, Louisiana State and Vanderbilt - have played Notre Dame in the last twenty-five years. Many SEC teams will not leave the South, for example, Florida.
The Gators have had eighty-nine non-conference games in the last twenty-five years. They have feasted on FCS teams (11 games, 11-0) and non-BCS teams (43 games, 42-1). Outside of annual rival Florida State (25 games, 11-13-1), they have only played Miami (5 games, 1-4) and five other schools single games (3-2). The Gators have played only two games in twenty-five years outside of the South (1-1) with their last such away game twenty years ago! They have become comfortable scheduling two cupcakes to open the season at home and then a FCS team prior to the Florida State game in late November.
Tennessee fans are remembered for the cordial way in which they treated Irish visitors and, for those who went to Knoxville, are considered among the best fans at an away game.
However, when Notre Dame played LSU in Baton Rouge on a Saturday night in 1971, Mike Townsend recalls: "We got treated like trash basically. Their fans were pelting us with beer bottles. They were throwing anything they could find." Bob Minnix recalls: "Typical LSU fan. They'd been drinking since that morning. Then they'd finish a whiskey bottle and throw it."
No matter the level of competition, I doubt that Swarbrick would want to put his players and Irish fans in such situations again. Previous experiences can be a factor in future scheduling.
When Notre Dame needed an opponent for their neutral site game in San Antonio, Minnix's Notre Dame connection may well have played a part in scheduling the Cougars. After Notre Dame, Minnix got his law degree with the University of Washington, is the former president of the Black Coaches Association, worked in the NCAA for twenty years - the final seven as Director of Enforcement, spent thirteen years in the Florida State Athletic Department where he became a senior associate athletic director and has spent three years as senior associate athletic director at Washington State University.
Bubba Cunningham, a Notre Dame graduate who worked in the ND Athletic Department, has been Tulsa's Athletic Director for almost six years and was instrumental in scheduling Tulsa's game with the Irish last year.
Keith Arnold, "Inside the Irish" at irish.nbcsports.com, reported on why the Northwestern - Notre Dame series of games was scheduled:
"If you’re looking for reasons this deal got done, consider that Phillips, now heading Northwestern’s athletic department, was a chief lieutenant in the Notre Dame athletic department from 2000-2004. Also consider that head coaches Brian Kelly and Pat Fitzgerald are friendly and both involved in coaching association endeavors, and Kelly also participates in the annual Randy Walker golf tournament, in honor of the late Northwestern head coach."
The Texas series was done after DeLoss Dodds, UT's AD, and Jack Swarbrick discussed mutual interests during last summer's conference realignment discussions. Dodds said: "We have a wonderful relationship with Notre Dame, and Jack and I have become great friends. I really admire and respect him and am excited we were able to pull this off.
The last time Michigan took a two year hiatus, Ohio State was scheduled by the Irish. Ohio State's Athletic Director is Gene Smith, a Notre Dame graduate and also a former football player for the Irish. Also, Sandy Barbour, now Athletic Director at California-Berkeley, was formerly deputy director of athletics at Notre Dame.
Should Michigan and/or Stanford fall off the Irish schedule would either Smith and Barbour or both be open to scheduling Notre Dame for future games with their schools?
Skip Holtz's South Florida Bulls opens the Irish schedule this year.
For Irish schedulers, November is the cruelest month. BC, Pittsburgh and Navy are the usual possibilities. But second half scheduling too often includes teams like Western Michigan, Navy, Tulsa, Utah and Army. In this spreadsheet, you can see that the Big Ten, Big Twelve and Pac 10 teams have hardly ever played Notre Dame in the second half of the season. Teams that have played second half of the season games with Notre Dame are highlighted in yellow.
The Irish turn to Big East , ACC or non-BCS teams like BYU, Air Force and Army. Here is the spreadsheet for non-BCS opponents for the last twenty-five years. On occasion, a few SEC teams have played the Irish in the second half of the season.
Florida and Notre Dame take two different roads in scheduling. Outside of their conference games, Florida has had 89 non-conference games in the last twenty-five years with 35 of those against BCS teams - 39% (including 25 against FSU) and 54 games against non-BCS and FCS teams - 61%.
Notre Dame's 109 games against its non-traditional rivals over the same twenty-five year period include 76 games against BCS teams - 70% - and 33 against non-BCS teams - 30%. Notre Dame is one of only three FBS teams never to have played a FCS team.
For those BCS teams who have large stadiums, don't mind playing in South Bend in the second half of the season and who have good graduation rates, step to the front of the line.
Notre Dame football represents its university's values with its commitment to the graduation of its student athletes. Playing schools with similar commitments may also play a role in its scheduling. Navy (93%), Boston College (91%), and Stanford (89%) are traditional rivals. Duke (96%) and Army (86%) are recent opponents with Northwestern (92%), Vanderbilt (91%), Air Force (87%) and Penn State (85%) on future and/or past schedules. (2010 Graduation Rate in parentheses) Out of last year's top ten in graduation rates, only non-BCS Miami (Ohio) (85%) has not appeared on modern day Irish schedules.
Of Big East opponents recently offered games with Notre Dame, Rutgers (81%), then Connecticut (82%) were first given the chance, before Syracuse (77%) accepted. Besides the top two ACC schools, Duke and Boston College, in graduation rates, the next four - Wake Forest (81%), North Carolina (80%), Miami (75%) and Florida State (73%) - have been scheduled.
Great competition, balancing the schedule, Big East membership, geography, appealing to a national fan base and alumni, stadium capacity, respect for Notre Dame, on-going relationships with other schools, playing in November and shared values may combine in many ways in determining in who appears on the Irish football schedule.
The only things that rides, in part, on successful scheduling of Notre Dame football are alumni and fan support and excitement, the continued independent status of the football team, the support it brings into to funding the other athletic programs and the renewal of a TV contract with NBC/Comcast or a competitor.
A piece of cake for any chess master. Now that you know the factors, here is one site's future schedules for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame Football Future Schedules. With 2012 and 2016 complete, who would you complete the schedules for the other three years?
Who you would keep among our rivals and where else the Irish should play?
Quotes from Mike Townsend and Bob Minnix taken from "Talking Irish: The Oral History of Notre Dame Football" by Steve Delshohn.
Thanks to Chesterton lep for the photo of Notre Dame and Navy fans.