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Full transcript of The Observer’s sitdown with Swarbrick

| Thursday, May 19, 2011

On what Notre Dame’s 2011-12 success means to him personally:

One of the big changes when you come into this job as opposed to your prior experiences is the way you consume sport and the way you interact with it. You live and die much less with the outcomes of the teams than you do the individuals because you now know them. You get to know them personally. My reaction tends to be at that level. I’m so happy for the student-athletes; I’m so pleased to see them achieve goals they set for themselves. In the case of the women’s soccer team – to beat on that door for four consecutive years and finally knock it down, to have the fencers come off three years of frustration and achieve their ultimate goal. You tend to react to your experience with the specific student-athletes. In that sense, it’s like a proud parent; you just feel great.

On the women’s soccer national championship and whether it has a special meaning to him as his first national championship:

It certainly did. In fact, they gave me a jersey with the number one on it to signify my first championship. What I loved about that experience was the nature of the run through the tournament. It was just extraordinary. I mean, nobody had ever won that tournament below a two-seed. They were a four, and they just blitzed the field. 16-1 outscored the opposition during the tournament. Both games in the finals could have been three-, four-goal differentials. I mean, we beat the heck out of the pipes all game long. We hit two really good goalies who got hot. They just dominated the field and that was so consistent with the personality of that team. They were as confident and as eager to face the best opponents as any team I’ve ever been around. They had a conviction about their ability that was really cool to see.

On whether the widespread success on the national level is expected to become the norm:

Well, every year is its own story. You have things happen that you can’t control: injuries, other things that impact you. But, the one thing I have worked hard to do, and I think our coaches and athletes have really embraced it, is to articulate that the national championship is the goal annually. That’s what we’re trying to do, and to really focus on that as the objective for the sports. We had 16 of our teams get into the tournament, and you can’t win it if you don’t get into the tournament. That’s the start – really having a consistently large base of teams and individual athletes who make it into the NCAA tournament. Women’s golf qualified for the nationals for the first time ever. That’s a huge accomplishment. That’s what we want them thinking, and I really feel like that is what’s taking root.

On whether the success of the programs speaks to the type of coaches at the helm:

Certainly, we have extraordinary coaches. You don’t achieve those levels of success without great coaches, and we have those. Those coaches are also great fits here. You have to have a feel for this place. You’ve got to understand the restrictions and the assets that you’re working with and embrace them, and all the coaches you mentioned (Waldrum, McGraw, Jackson) do. One of the great things we have going for us here is the tenure of many of our coaches. You go down that list of coaches that have had great years, and you can look it up. You get people who are extraordinary coaches, great fits, and they build great programs here.

On improving attendance for non-football sports:

We have to do a better job of it, and that’s my responsibility. That’s not [women’s soccer coach Randy Waldrum’s]. We have to market it more effectively and promote it better. Having said that, one of the challenges when you achieve success in a lot of sports is you’re marketing a lot of sports over a finite audience size. We’re one of the few colleges in America that has three prime winter sports that it all markets aggressively. We don’t concede that one of them might not have good attendance. The two basketballs and the hockey, we’re trying to fill the building every night. On some weekends, that’s 23,000 seats. Yeah, we have [85,000] on our football Saturday, but we’ve got a lot of seat inventory we’re moving the rest of the year in the other sports. So, the good news is we have lots of success. The challenge with that is we have a lot of great programs that deserve support that have a lot of contests that we have to market and get more people to come to. I share Randy’s view that we have to do a better job.

On whether the difficulty of the 2012 schedule is going to be the norm going forward:

Yeah, who formed that schedule? Who did that? You know, that year is especially challenging, but it’ll be representative of the future, yes. If you’re going to be independent, if you’re going to give yourself the flexibility of building your own schedule, you have to embrace that. You have to try and build one that’s really good. I also think that if one assumes that the current BCS format remains in its current form or something like it, it’s really incumbent on Notre Dame to be able to make the case at the end of the year that it’s played the toughest schedule in the country, because there will be a strong presumption in favor of the SEC champ, the Big Ten champ, the Pac-12 champ, or the Big 12 champ to be in that championship game. If we want to be there, we better be able to make the argument that no one in the country played a tougher schedule, and so that’s how we’re going to build them.

On the future of the off-site home game tradition and whether it will continue:

Yes. [Yankee Stadium] was a special weekend and I have every confidence that Washington will work well, that Chicago will work well, and Dallas. We won’t do it just to do it. If we don’t have reasons to go to a market that we think helps Notre Dame — the off-site games are all about the University. They’re not about the football program. There’s not a significant benefit to the football program in doing it, but we think there’s a major benefit to the University in doing it. That’s why we play football.

On the Senior Day victory over Utah:

Certainly the scene on the field was cool. The senior students needed it as much as the senior student-athletes did. It was a very emotional time, because it had been a very challenging two weeks, three weeks leading up to it, and again it was more on the individual, personal level. I felt so good for the young men who had worked so hard. It would have been so easy for them to lose focus. So easy, and they just didn’t. At the college level, athlete leadership plays a unique role. In high school it’s sort of all coaching. When you get to the pros, there’s sort of a different element to it because you have a lot of extraordinary people with a lot of extraordinary talent. There are no successful college programs that don’t have great student-athlete leadership on the team. There are great coaches, but even the best coaches, if you don’t get great leadership from the student-athletes on the team, you won’t have a great program. We had exceptional leadership to get the team through that time, and the measure of their leadership was that game.

On getting a “feel” for Notre Dame:

Well, I went here, so that helps. Having a feel for it is understanding its values and being comfortable with those and embrace them, so there’s that. But yeah, you learn a lot when you come into the job. There was strong appeal to coming back to a place that meant a lot to me and giving something back to it. The bigger factor for me was Father Jenkins. When I met him in the course of considering this opportunity, I was struck by him as one of the most talented leaders I had met, and I’ve been around a lot of talented leaders in my life. So, one of the things you have to get comfortable with and learn is about the leadership of the University and as I said, he’s the best. He helps set the tone for all of this.

On how he splits his time:

The biggest thing that distinguishes this position from a lot of directors of athletics in college athletics is the amount of time I spend on University matters. I serve on what used to be the Executive Committee; we just changed the name to Presidential something Committee — but with the other officers and deans and so on. I’m with them all the time on policy decisions. It’s just because athletics is so integrated into the University. It doesn’t stand alone as its own business. You wind up engaged in University matters all the time. That’s great, that’s the way it should be, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of time that takes. It’s significant. That takes a big chunk. There’s a huge chunk that comes with representing Notre Dame externally. We’re in a unique position in that regard. There’s all the Big East stuff. There’s all the BCS things, you know, sitting on the BCS executive committee, unique in that regard. There’s having your own broadcast partner, the time you spend on that relationship. There are the NCAA things I work on. So, you have this really broad range of external responsibilities that take me away from campus and take a lot of your time. And then the remaining portion of your time, which is probably for me slightly less than half, is the business of running Notre Dame athletics. When I reorganized the business here, part of it was the recognition of that reality. We’re the only place in the country that has a single-sport administration for each sport. At most universities, and this one when I came, you have a person who’s got six or seven sports they’re the administrator for. But I wanted a much more year-round, concentrated representative of the administration with each of the sports.

On the release of future football schedules:

We got ourselves behind in the transition from one AD to another and we were catching up a little bit. I hope to have the schedule out through ‘17 before we start the fall season. There may be a piece or two missing, but we’re pretty close.

On releasing the schedules so early and having the contracts broken:

Well, you write your contracts to deal with that. All those contracts have provisions for getting out of them, what the penalties are if someone gets out. It happens more than it should in our industry, but the good news is that we have very little of it. Typically it accompanies some change in the school, a change in coach or something where they have a different philosophy. Most of the schools we compete with fall into two categories. One is a traditional rivalry where there’s no incentive to not continue it. The other is schools that are really eager to bring their teams here and have us come there and we’re a real linchpin to their schedule, so they’re not inclined to do something different.

On whether conference realignment may come up again:

No. No, there may be small changes, but we’ve had a fundamental shift in the past few weeks in some regards. When you get conferences whose members are also equity partners in a media company, it changes the dynamic completely. And so the Pac-12 will now launch a network much as the Big 10 has done. And so you get those two cornerstones of the industry who are going to be very set. They may choose to admit somebody at some point, but that’s not an easy call when you’re giving somebody an equity stake in your network. So, they will be very stable. With two large conferences reflecting that level of stability, I don’t think there’s enough of a dynamic to cause major change. There will be some, but it won’t be like what we came close to last year.

On how much time he spent analyzing realignment during the conference realignment frenzy:

I was consumed by it. I spent all my time it. The staff understood — it’s like the football search. When you make a change in football coach, you get with your senior staff and you say, ‘I’m out of here for a while. I have to put all my energy on this.’ Conference expansion was a lot like that. We had to stay very engaged. We had to make sure we understood what was going on, we had to conduct an internal evaluation to reaffirm our priorities, and so we worked on that every day.

On Notre Dame launching a network much like Texas:

Yeah, we will – you know, we are very focused on building our digital media capacity. It’ll probably take a slightly different form because we work with a different set of assets than Texas. I think that Texas’ model is a great one; I think they’ll be hugely successful. But it is based on the remarkable passion for that school in a geographic area, so it fits over a cable footprint. I don’t have any market like that. I have interest everywhere, but not a concentration of it in one place. And so our opportunities will really come as broadband delivery increases and as you all are consuming media on a more content-by-content basis rather than a network basis. So as those two things evolve, that’s really going to play to Notre Dame’s favor, and what we want to do is position ourselves to take full advantage of it. So as broadband delivery on an a la carte basis, if you will, becomes the future of media, Notre Dame’s going to be really well-positioned.

On the Ohio State ethics issues and the ethics culture in college football:

Well, it’s been a bad year for the ethics of college athletics. I know nothing about the Ohio State case. The one thing you learn in this job when you read about yourself is don’t believe what you read, and so I don’t presume to know anything about Ohio State’s circumstance. They’ll work their way through that, and I have a lot of faith in the NCAA process. But it’s been a bad year for the industry. I mean, just the discussion of these things: the Cam Newton situation, the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State, we’ve just had far too much of that, and I think it’s really important to us as an industry, as the NCAA, to figure out how to be more effective in keeping negative events from happening in our sport, at least the ones we can control. Notre Dame is disadvantaged if the industry is viewed in a negative light. We’re part of that industry. We hope people receive us in some ways as being a standard-bearer, and we certainly try to be. We don’t take any solace when somebody else goes through a tough time, because that’s not good for college football, that’s not good for college athletics. So, in that case, I hope it resolves itself well for Ohio State, but more broadly, I hope the NCAA and the industry can come up with better ways to ensure ethical conduct, because it really hurts us when we fall short of that.