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Observer Exclusive: Swarbrick discusses four-team playoff in college football, television

Chris Allen | Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Since its inception in 1998, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has been the subject of much scrutiny. The long-awaited news of its demise came out of a late-April meeting between Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick and 11 conference commissioners. Swarbrick spoke with The Observer about the future of the proposed four-team playoff system as well as a host of other topics in Notre Dame athletics May 3.

Swarbrick said while there is agreement on the four-team model, many other considerations have yet to be settled upon.

“The good news is there is strong consensus around a four-team model, still to be resolved is the issue of when and where the semifinals are played,” he said. “You have different models, you have independent sites, you have bowl sites and you have home campus sites.

“The last piece other than selection that’s really important to resolve here is to come to a consensus on that issue of where the semifinals are played. It’s accepted that the national championship game will be at an independent site.”

Though the exact process of selecting the four teams to compete in a playoff will be decided at a future meeting, Swarbrick said he has pushed to ensure the importance of regular-season football is preserved.

“I was real pleased that there seemed to be unanimity among everyone involved in the discussion that we want to make sure selection rewards strength of schedule,” he said. “That helps protect regular-season football, encouraging good teams to play each other, outside of the conference games they have. That issue has to be resolved.”

Given Notre Dame’s unique position as a football independent without a conference tie-in, Swarbrick has had to ensure that the new system allows Notre Dame to stay relevant and compete for titles. He said he is pleased the proposed system fits with Notre Dame’s strategic goals.

“The two things that we focus on are having an opportunity to win a national championship: Is there anything about the system that will limit us or put as at a disadvantage? I’m optimistic that it won’t,” he said. “The other is: Does it allow us to maintain our independence? I’m optimistic that it will.”

Year-in-review
Though Notre Dame’s varsity athletic programs have failed to capture a national championship in the 2011-12 season as this commencement issue goes to print, the year saw many Notre Dame athletes and teams enjoy success. Swarbrick said he was pleased with the progress made by the Irish teams in athletic competition.

“I feel very good [about this year]. It’s interesting, last year when we were talking, we were coming off a couple of national championships in women’s soccer and fencing,” he said. “You always like to have those, but in some ways, the depth and the breadth of the performance this year has been even better, from an event championship at the NCAA track and field, something we haven’t done, which was really cool, the distance medley, having an All-American swimmer in the men’s swimming competition.

“Across the board, I’m really pleased that you see highlights almost everywhere you look. We still want to win championships, that’s still the goal, we focused on that, but when you look at the competitive performance, the classes we have coming in and the academic performance of the student-athletes, I think it’s been a very good year.”

For the second athletic year in a row, Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team and head coach Muffet McGraw galvanized the campus with a run to the national championship game. Though McGraw’s bunch fell short of the title again, Swarbrick said the success of the team and All-American junior point guard Skylar Diggins elevates the entire athletic community at Notre Dame.

“Our student-athletes are in such proximity to each other, it’s a relatively small university and our facilities are located together, and any time you see a team go to the final game consecutive years, you say to yourself ‘We can do that. If they can, we can,’” Swarbrick said. “You watch those athletes work and know that’s the standard you have to meet … the great thing about the women’s success is that it’s featured a transcendent player from the local community. That’s a special aspect of it. The program that already had a strong community relationship, Skylar’s success has only heightened it with her remarkable abilities and prominence.”

The new barn
Though the Irish hockey team did not match the Frozen Four run of 2010-11 with this year’s underwhelming campaign, the program did enjoy the opening of state-of-the-art hockey-specific arena Compton Family Ice Arena. Players, coaches and fans in the community praised the new facility, which opened in the fall and features a regulation sheet of ice and Olympic-size ice. Swarbrick said the community involvement engendered by the facility was a key aspect of Compton’s first season.

“From a hockey perspective, the coaches like it, the players like it and it works well, I’m hopeful that it produces more of a home-ice advantage in the future, and I’m certain it will because we have a great program,” he said. “On the community side of it, which was the motivating factor behind having a lone facility with two sheets of ice, it’s exceeded expectation.

“With learn-to-skate programs, youth hockey and recreational skating, the numbers have been through the roof, and it’s been what we’ve wanted. It’s been a magnet to bring the community to the campus other than on a Notre Dame varsity event basis, and have them feel a sense of ownership in part of the campus; it’s their home ice too for all those programs.”

New media
The Irish hockey and men’s lacrosse programs were featured in special documentaries aired by the NBC Sports Network this year. Swarbrick said the athletic department is working to increase exposure to all Notre Dame sports across a variety of media.

“[The Notre Dame Network] will never be a channel on your cable station, that’s not the model for the Notre Dame Network. It will never be the Longhorn Network or the Big Ten Network,” he said. “What it will be is Notre Dame-branded content distributed over a number of methods of distribution.

“We had almost 100 percent increase in the number of live games we streamed this year, we had incredibly well done special programs on the opening of Compton and inside our men’s lacrosse program that aired on the NBC Sports Network this year, we had some hockey games from Compton on the NBC Sports Network. That’s our model: more programming, produced by us and distributed over a number of means. In that sense, it was a great year for the network.”

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu