Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Au revoir, Gopher | by Jay

Is this the cost of our new scheduling strategy? Per the Twin Cities Pioneer Press:

Notre Dame and Baylor University are negotiating a football game for 2012. The Gophers tried to land a game with Notre Dame, too, athletics director Joel Maturi said.

"We worked real hard to see if that could happen, but I don't think it will," said Maturi, a 1967 Notre Dame graduate. "I thought a game with Notre Dame would make sense because they (Irish) have worked so hard at recruiting this particular area.

"But the fact is that they regularly play Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan and next year Penn State. Right now, we're the odd man out."

Maturi said he has tried "on numerous occasions" to get Notre Dame on the Gophers' schedule.

"We would have preferred that they open our new stadium (in 2009)," he said. "But we would play them any time. I'm respectful that a lot of people want to play Notre Dame, but they're looking at a different schedule. Obviously, Texas is a significant recruiting area, which is also part of playing Baylor."
This is really disappointing. Here you've got a chance to set up a nice home-and-home series with a regional opponent we haven't seen since 1938. The upper midwest is fervent Irish territory, and we've opened some recruiting pipelines in the area as well. Plus, christening the Gophers' new stadium would be a unique honor. And yet, we can't, or won't, do it -- not in '09 for the new stadium, and not ever, apparently. Why not?

Last year Kevin White revealed that ND would be moving towards a new "7 home, 4 road, 1 neutral-site" model for all future schedules. Layered on top of this proposal are several strictures, either traditional or self-imposed:
  1. Maintaining our traditional series with Southern Cal and Navy
  2. Maintaining some sort of relationship with the Big 10, especially Michigan State and Purdue, and to a lesser extent, Michigan; probably at least 2 or 3 games per year
  3. Increasing contact with the Big East, which goes to 3 games per year starting in '09, with Pitt as a mainstay of this relationship through 2016.
As a result, there will be little room under the plan for home-and-home series like the Gophers game proposed by Maturi. After you pencil in the two traditionals, and the Big 10, and then the Big East, you don't have much flexibility for interesting teams like Minnesota or Georgia who come knocking on your door. (That's just to name two teams that we know for a fact have pursued home-and-homes with ND. According to Heisler, dozens of teams have inquired about starting a series with ND. "Georgia has called," Heisler said. "Name a Division I program, and they probably had some conversation with us at some point. But based on the people we're committed to...I don't know where we'd go to add somebody new.")

Here's a sample of what a two-year, 12-game schedule somewhere down the line would look like, given the current arrangements, and assuming we continue to play our traditional three Big 10 games:

Year 1
Year 2

1. home
Southern Cal

2. home Navy

3. home Michigan State
Pitt (BE)

4. home (Big East)
(Big East)
5. home

} your basic Duke,
Army, SDSU,
Nevada, Baylor slots.
(i.e., "no heavyweights",
and no return date)

6. home

7. home

8. neutral site

1. away
Southern Cal

2. away Michigan

3. away Pitt (BE) Michigan State

4. away (Big East) (Big East)

So your 4 away game slots are already full, along with most of your homes, and pretty soon all that's left is finding teams to fill out the home schedule. For those slots (and for the neutral site, which is another home game for all practical purposes) we can't have an interesting team like Minnesota, who would want a home-and-home; instead, we're looking for tomato cans who are more than happy to step into the ring and take a beating for a tidy fee, and who, most importantly, don't require a return game. (Many big name programs are already well down this road to candyland, and reaping the financial and competitive benefits of 8 home games against a slate of patsies). What we're talking about for ND are teams like Baylor, Army, Duke, SDSU, Nevada, and so forth. Nice for the 7-4-1 model, and healthy for the gravy train, but unfortunately it doesn't make for particularly scintillating football.

As you can see there's not much room for a home-and-home with the likes of Minnesota under this plan, and that's sad, because those interesting, non-traditional home-and-homes have always been hallmarks of the ND schedule. Think about the great road trips (and corresponding home matches) we've had against some of the more colorful names in college football, just in the past thirty years or so: UCLA, Penn State, Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Florida State, Miami, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Washington, and Colorado, just to name a few.

Did you see the Irish play in Austin in 1996? How about in Neyland Stadium in '90 or '99? Were you there when Faust knocked off LSU in Baton Rouge in '84? Have you travelled to College Station, or Happy Valley? Are you heading to Pasadena this year?

Unless something changes, these kinds of games look to be rarer and rarer. And that's a cryin' shame.

I would like to have seen...Tuscaloosa.