Thursday, March 19, 2009

Heisler: Call Off the Hurricane Watch? | by Kevin

In today's South Bend Tribune (scroll down to the second story in the link), Senior Associate AD John Heisler -- who held primary scheduling responsibilities under Kevin White and retained that role under Jack Swarbrick -- seemed to put to bed the idea that a future matchup with Miami (or Alabama, or Georgia, or other "heavyweight") might be in the cards for Notre Dame. While I'll leave to speculation the extent to which the portions not in quotes are Eric Hansen's independent conclusions, as opposed to the product of his discussion with Heisler, the article does draw a bleak picture of the prospect of a Canes-Irish renewal:

A recent Miami Herald story quoting Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick as "very interested" in awakening the dormant football rivalry with Miami has gained a little more momentum than reality might allow.

The Irish do have holes in their upcoming schedules, but all of them involve teams that would either be willing to play in South Bend with no return game or at an off-site game in which Notre Dame controls the TV rights and gate receipts.

Home-and-home series could only be created by bumping a current partner from an existing contract.

"I'd have to say that some of it is Jack, in his first year, kind of taking stock of where we are and where we're headed relative to scheduling," said ND senior associated athletic director John Heisler, who deals with scheduling on a day-to-day basis. "He's looking at what sort of commitments we have in contract form and at the more informal conversations we've had and then just trying to figure out just what roads we're going to try to head down.

"I think all that is a little bit of a work-in-progress still. In fact, it's a lot of work in progress."

Could the Miami-ND series happen? Yes, but other than an off-site game it could not without either restructuring existing contracts with long-time partners, departing from the 7-4-1 scheduling philosophy (seven home games, four road games, one off-site game) or both. The flexibility simply doesn't exist.

As for Swarbrick, he is smart enough not to be quoted as saying Notre Dame would be "very uninterested" in a series with anyone.
The article states that a schedule featuring Miami would require "restructuring existing contracts with long-time partners, departing from the 7-4-1 scheduling philosophy (seven home games, four road games, one off-site game) or both." As such, "[t]he flexibility simply doesn't exist."

First things first: the inconsistency between Swarbrick's and Heisler's messages is a bit disconcerting. Have the two discussed their respective views on scheduling -- generally or regarding this potential series?

Second, the article assumes the existence of "contracts with long-time partners." Which contracts, and with which teams? We keep pretty good track of scheduling announcements here on BGS, and we've never seen anything public about contracts with Purdue, Michigan State or Stanford. Are these signed deals, or just longstanding agreements? Absent signed deals, ND is pretty wide-open. ND remains rightly beholden by tradition to play USC and Navy every year. But the remaining ten games -- including those usually played against Purdue, Michigan State, and Stanford -- are probably open to discussion. Flexibility has already been demonstrated with the longstanding Purdue and Michigan State series: two years ago, it was announced that we would be taking a hiatus from PU and MSU at some point in the future to accomodate other teams.

Yet even assuming these contracts exist and they mean ND has no open schedule slots for the foreseeable future, as a practical matter they represent little more than a starting point in a new set of negotiations. No one can be ordered to comply with a contract for specific performance (you can be forced to pay money, but you can't be forced to work, perform, or play a football game -- the courts don't want to get into the involuntary servitude business). That means, even in the worst-case scenario that ND is sued and loses, the most they would have to do is cut a check. Of course, one would hope that ND, with an impressive new General Counsel and a successful attorney running the athletic department, would not find itself in such a position in the first place.

Finally, ND might not be completely booked even if it were locked into and keeps certain long-term deals. As ShermanOaksND pointed out on NDNation, ND may still have an open spot or more beginning in 2014.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts about this un-development. What can be done to provide for more interesting and challenging future schedules? Should anything be done at all?