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Full Transcript: Jack Swarbrick

| Thursday, December 27, 2012

 

JACK SWARBRICK
Notre Dame
Director of Athletics

Observer questions in bold:

“Obviously, things are really good when football does well. From this seat, from this job, you feel sort of the same for when women’s soccer wins. It’s hard to say one year is better than the other. Each of those really good seasons by any team, usually the same sort of feeling. The business of it is better when football does well. I’m as excited when our basketball teams make a run or when our soccer teams do. It’s hard to distinguish a moment.”

Speaking of the business side of things, with the Big East news the last week or so, does that accelerate or change any of the ACC process?

“It’s hard to figure out right now because it’s a little difficult to know what’s going to happen. As a bit of an end point, you have a good sense the conference will split into two parts but you don’t know the timing of it or the dynamic of it. We’re really engaged right now trying to figure it out for obvious reasons. If it’s going to change, we would have to know soon. We’re spending a lot of time trying to understand what going on. There’s a lot of misreporting on it. That’s not meant to be critical. A transaction like this, with a lot of moving parts, it’s hard to understand. For example, you keep on reading in the papers about the voting dynamic in the Big East, the basketball schools and the three football schools. We still have a vote. No one’s mentioned that. There’s a lot of details like that. It’s hard for somebody who’s not in the process to really get their arms around it.”

Does that Jan. 1 or New Year’s deadline still apply to the situation now that, in a sense, the sky is falling with the teams in the Big East conference?

“Well, by the Jan. 1 deadline, you relative to our ability to get the ACC scheduling done?”

Correct.

“Probably still does. We are in a position where if this were to be accelerated, that’s about the timetable. There are a lot of schedules that are implicated with the basketball ones because the need to hold venue dates. That’s the most complicated.”

What is your target date for the ACC? If you had an ideal date, what would it be?

“Well, we’ve said throughout that sooner is better. There were some version of three possibilities. There are two now. There’s wait, go through, have this be the last season, next year be the last season or the following season be the last season. So there were three. I think it’s in the interest of the Big East and Notre Dame to accelerate it. I’ve said that from day one. The best case scenario would be for us to be in the ACC next year.”

What would need to happen for that to happen?

“What we’re focused on is our agreement with the Big East to cause that to happen. With what’s going on now, it’s a little different, a little different posture. You’re not sure. All of that playing out impacts who you’re talking to, what their plans are. If the Big East were going to split by next year, then that sort of answers the question. If it’s going to go on for one more year after that, you have to know who to talk to and what they’re going to look like.”

Do you know if it’s going to split next season?

“Nobody knows. What they’ve announced is an intention and what they’re engaged in is discussions but how that plays out is anybody’s guess right now.”

Do those discussions involve you personally?

“Indirectly, not personally. The basketball schools are convening upon themselves and the conference office is talking. We tend to be having individual conversations with people.”

In terms of moving forward with the football scheduling, obviously the ACC agreement leaves less room for some of those Big Ten schools. What sort of solution do you envision? I mean, obviously the Michigan series will be on hold for a while but do you see those coming back, Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State? Do you see those coming back, being fixtures?

“Yeah. There may be less frequency. As I keep saying to people, it’s not that different. We have a number of year where we have four ACC games already. We had two where we had five scheduled, independent of doing this agreement. The challenge is that you just don’t have as much flexibility. It’s less about committing those games. It’s the flexibility of it, both in terms of home games and where you have openings on your calendar. In the 6-5-1 model, you can have five away games. You can assume every year that one of those is either USC or Stanford. Three of them are either the ACC or Navy. In some years, it’s two ACC home, three away and others it’s three at home and two away. So the combination of Navy and the ACC will give you three so that means, for those traditional rivals with the ACC agreement, four road games are always accounted for. For scheduling purposes, you only have one to play with. Now we can get some teams into the Shamrock Series and continue to play that feature our relationships that way. In terms of home-and-homes, you only have one slot on the calendar to play with.”

Speaking of schedule flexibility, a lot of questions are being asked about the Big East and if it does in fact dissolve, next year, would Notre Dame take on that ACC load of teams or is next year’s schedule pretty much–?

“’13 is done. Nothing about it changes. ’14 has always been the year for the ACC scheduling agreement, independent of our other sports join. That’s timed to the new BCS so that’s why we wanted to do that. There’s one more year of the BCS under the old format. Our commitment to the ACC starts in the first year of the new BCS format.”

So it’s completely independent?

“Completely independent.”

Speaking of the new BCS format, have you generally been pleased by what it turned out to be?

“Yeah. It’s always a compromise. It’s great. I get so many letters from people sending me their formats for postseason football. Some of these things are 20-, 30-page letters, they’re unbelievable. It must be all people do with their free time. If you said to me ‘Design the perfect postseason model,’ would it have differences from this? Yes. This is a process with a lot of parties who have points of view. So you wind up negotiating solutions. From that perspective, it’s great. We had certain parameters. It was never going to be more that a four-team playoff because of what that did to the academic calendar. There were concerns about demands on the student athletes. Since we started the process, our president said to us ‘Don’t interfere with first-semester finals and be done by the start of second semester. That gives you a window that really only allows you, if you’re going to keep competitive equity in terms of number of days of practice before you have to play a big game, it takes you to a four-team playoff. It just does. It’s really hard because you have to avoid NFL Saturdays and Sundays. The Rubik’s Cube of it, in some ways, the easiest thing was figuring out it was a four-team playoff. I liked that the semifinals are embedded in the bowls. I think that’s nice, it keeps the bowl tradition. I especially like that the championship is not. It’s independent, it will be bid out like the Super Bowl. I like that there’s a selection committee rather than polls who are making that critical determination who those four teams are. Across the board, I was pretty pleased.”

Has the makeup of the selection committee been announced?

“No. We’ll meet starting right after the BCS Championship. There’s some pressing issues. The first on is where will the first championship be? You don’t have enough time to have a bid process for it. We’ve got to go negotiate with somebody. There’s the issue of sort of granting this and we’ll have to talk about it and what it will be. Third piece of it is starting to build up the selection committee because I think what we want to do is have a dry run using next football season to operate the selection committee without having its result matter.”

Is there a timetable as to when that would be announced as in the first championship game under the new system, where would it be or anything?

“We have to get it resolved in sort of the next four months. I would look for it mid- to late-spring.”

In Jack Swarbrick’s perfect playoff system, what would be changed?

“The tier of bowl below the playoffs would have matchups determined more by ranking. That’s okay. Under the new system, as in this year, Northern Illinois would have gotten in because one of the spots that’s reserved is for the highest-ranked team among the five other conferences. It would have been Northern Illinois. That’s a choice you make. They’re a great team, they’re a great program. The whole bunch of teams ranked above them wouldn’t get one of those games. For me, I would have had less of those contractual ties and more of that elite-tier bowls right below the playoffs determined by ranking.”

You talked a lot over the last couple of years about building a digital presence, and obviously, the digital media group has been [inaudible] this fall. How have you felt about their performance and how do you see growth?

“I think it’s been our single-most significant business success this year. It’s been phenomenal. I’m an optimist by nature but they have far exceeded my highest hopes for what we’d achieve. I think the quality of the content is great. I think the volume of the content is great. The variety is great. We’ve really given people an insight into the student-athlete and the athletics program that they’ve never had before. When you augment that with things like the NBC special on the road to Chicago, the Strong of Heart series that aired, having GameDay here, hockey at Soldier Field, that game will be featured. I’m not sure any– I’m pretty sure that no school has ever had this level of exposure in a single athletic year that we’ll achieve this year in gross ratings points, in number of hours of exposure. Every measure, we’ve set a new standard this year.”

As far as the success you’ve had with viewers and the popularity, do you think it’s a bit of an anomaly because football’s been so good for you guys this year that you keep throwing resources towards it and let’s say Notre Dame has an off year, that is might not be a good idea to do that at such a fast pace?

“I don’t think so. I think the way you all consumer digital content now, you have an expectation of new things on a regular basis, short formats and you better meet that expectation. I think there’ll be different stories in different years with different focuses. You better be doing that. We have a million things we have to do. We have to be better in the second-screen applications. Every year, every game more and more of our fans are accessing a second screen when they’re watching Notre Dame football. The content on that second screen, what it provides and how it works is really important.”

You’ve seen the success of the Big Ten Network and you’ve seen the failure of a Longhorn Network. Is this your kind of way of testing the waters and seeing what you can do with this or is this strictly an online medium?

“This was always our model. Both of those models, though they have significant differences, are based on geography. Longhorn Network is based on selling across 11 million homes in Texas and southern Oklahoma. We don’t have that. We have pockets of interest everywhere but we don’t have a geographic footprint – we have the country. You can’t distribute in a network way. What we have to do is be in the business of producing more original content and value than anybody and distributing over a host of platforms. Our channel on YouTube is important to us. Our partnership with NBC is important to us. The regional sport networks and Comcast are important to us. We’re agnostic as to the distribution format. Where we are different from the Longhorn Network and the Big Ten network, principally is the content business.”

The NBC contact is coming up soon for renewal, do you see that continuing in to the future?

“We’re in discussions now and I’m really optimistic about it. Actually doesn’t end for a while but we’ve accelerated the discussions. They’re going well.”

Does anything change with the Comcast conglomerate taking over?

“It helps because they have many more resources. If you go back to that model of what you’re looking for are more distribution platforms. Comcast has the most you can have. They are the national leader in broadband distribution. They distribute more broadband than anybody. They have a regional sports network, they have a 24-hour sports network, they have an over-the-air station. They have other cable network assets so it’s great.”

The environment in the stadium has been a big point of emphasis this year. How much has the Take a StaND campaign succeeded and also how much of it is due to winning again?

“From my perspective and I think from the student-athletes’, it’s succeeded well. It’s had a real impact. It’s not just that, it’s everything about it – it’s the music, it’s the Take a StaND, it’s the sort of reorienting of our ushers about expectations and it’s the season. But you had to be deliberate about encouraging those changes or they wouldn’t happen. A season alone wouldn’t produce them. I think the atmosphere in the stadium this year was so much better, so much better. Even the first game. The players recognize it and love the energy it provides. Yeah, it’s an ongoing [change], you never get it perfect. There are things you try and decide that doesn’t help and you don’t do it and there are other things you do that you like so we continue to do that. The major thing for us is that we want it student driven. These are the students’ games. We’re all there but the student-athletes and their fellow students watching. One of the great things that’s happened this year has been the development and growth of the Leprechaun Legion. It gives us a student organization to sit and talk to about things like pep rallies, music in the stadium and Take a StaND and promotion our other sports. That’s been great.”

Does it change the way you approach any possible facilities upgrades?

“Probably doesn’t change it. It’s something you keep in mind when you think about the future of the Stadium. I now think the use of some limited prerecorded music is accepted in our stadium. All the angst when we started it has sort of dissipated by and large and people are okay with it. That’s the good news. The bad news is our sound system doesn’t work very well because you need to distributed sound system that goes around the stadium as opposed to having it all come from the press box. The poor people seated right outside the press box, painful. And the people in the two far corners away from it, it’s not loud enough. That takes you to the conclusion that we need to improve the sound system. It’s things like that.”

Now that Brian Kelly has a team that’s No. 1 and everything is moving towards the national title game, afterwards, if he wants field turf, if he wants a jumbotron, does that expedite the process of thinking about it or moving forward?

“No. I want to be clear, Brian and I spend a lot of time talking about the program, ways to make it better. It’s a deliberative process. Brian hasn’t come forward and said I want X or I want Y. We talk about what we think will help. All those things are part of a very long list that we actively consider. It’s more about that and less about ‘We gotta have this, gotta have that.’ The interest in field turf is almost exclusively, has nothing to do with playing the game on Saturday. It’s almost exclusively related to two things: one, being able to practice on it on Thursday and the other is being able to do more things on the stadium floor to make the Stadium more of an asset to the University. Maybe a mid-winter hockey classic, maybe a concert, we do commencement there now. One of the questions you have to ask yourself if is you can do that, if there are more things you can do in the Stadium, what should the surface be?”

Are you leaning towards a more of a hybrid one if you do change it or would it be real artificial turf?

“We’re just not far enough down the road. The investment in hybrid is very significant if you want to sustain it. It’s what Green Bay does. Green Bay has gotten an infrastructure for a hybrid field that really works. People who put in a hybrid field and weren’t prepared to make that infrastructure investment, the hybrid field didn’t work because you can’t ever resod, you can only reseed. That’s tough.”

Do you see any notable renovations or changes happening to the Stadium come fall of 2013?

“No. I don’t anticipate it. We’ll see. We always tinker with it. A few months ago, we started doing tours in the Stadium. So one of the things we think about it how do you enhance those tours? That could lead to some changes. But no, I don’t anticipate seeing many changes.”

Outside of the football realm, what has been your big surprise, happy surprise throughout all the athletic programs?

“Those questions always get me in trouble.”

It’s like picking your favorite child.

“Exactly. There’s always several. The No. 1 seed in soccer, I love that. I love that for Bobby who’s such a great coach. The guys deserved it, they played the hardest schedule in the country and came out with the No. 1 seed. I thought that was great. We have some really elite-level swimmers here now. That’s a neat growth in those programs. The men are especially deep and competitive right now. It’s fun with programs that people start to think that maybe, they can get better and they do. We have a couple of really extraordinary swimmers on each team that have been setting the pace. Opening the new fencing headquarters was cool, was great. Such a good program, to give them a home that is reflective of their quality. I thought hockey would be really good this year. They had potential to and it is. Both basketball programs are on such a roll. They are really, really good. It’s great that our coaches have us in that position.”

Speaking of the basketball programs, it there a plan in works for a practice facility?

“Yes. Plan is too strong of a work but it’s a high priority. We’re trying to secure the funding for it. It’s something we really have to get done. The policy, the very good policy here at Notre Dame, is that you don’t move forward with a project until it’s fully funded You focus on the funding initially. That’s where we are.”

Do you know how much it will take?

“It’s probably about a $30 million project. Most of the ones we’ve looked at around the country have been built somewhere from $25 to $30 [million].”

Would it be a separate building or would it tack on to something?

“You want the geography as close to your competitive court as you can. To be determined but it won’t get too far away.”