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Football Commentary: Schedule for 2010 not acceptable

Sam Werner | Thursday, October 29, 2009

Notre Dame released its finalized 2010 football schedule this week, and it is, shall we say, uninspiring.

The regulars are all there — USC, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Stanford and Navy. Recent series against Boston College and Pittsburgh continue next season, and of course everyone is excited for the game against Army in the new Yankee Stadium.

The last three games added, though, give some reason for pause.

Next year, the Irish will play non-traditional opponents Utah, Tulsa and, they announced this week, Western Michigan.

There’s nothing wrong with the game against Utah. Ever since Urban Meyer took over as head coach there, the Utes have been a solid, if not elite, football team.

The problem lies in the last two games, against Tulsa and Western Michigan. These two agreements, in which both schools will play one game at Notre Dame with no return trip, reflect a disturbing trend in Notre Dame’s recent scheduling policies.

Beginning this season, Notre Dame has started with a “7-4-1” scheduling model, meaning the team plays seven home games at Notre Dame Stadium, four true road games, and one off-site home game, such as this weekend’s against Washington State in San Antonio.

The main problem of the 7-4-1 model is the fact that it severely limits the amount of true road games Notre Dame can play. In any given season, three away games are taken up by the “regular” opponents that aren’t leaving the schedule any time soon.

The main problem with limiting road games is that it cuts down on which teams Notre Dame can realistically schedule games with. The reason the Broncos and Golden Hurricane are coming to South Bend is because they agreed to do so without demanding a return trip from the Irish. Any top-caliber team would demand at least one game against the Irish at their stadium.

Both Alabama and Miami have expressed interest in playing Notre Dame in recent years, and, for their part, the Notre Dame athletic department has said they are interested. It seems, though, that they are only interested if they don’t have to make any concessions to the 7-4-1 model.

Notre Dame has said that the 7-4-1 is in place to maximize the number of home games for Irish fans, which sounds great on the surface. But if we’re getting home games against Western Michigan and Tulsa, is it really worth it?

I’ll be the first one to agree that there’s nothing like a game in Notre Dame Stadium, but aren’t road games an integral part of college football, too? It’s fun to load up the car with your friends, hit the road, and see the Irish in another team’s stadium. As anyone who traveled to Atlanta in 2006 or Happy Valley in 2007 can attest, road games are a good thing.

The 7-4-1 would even be fine, though, if it weren’t filled with Western Michigan and Tulsa. Either one on it’s own would even be okay, but the combination of the two is, at best, undesirable.

“Last year it was Ball State that was on that remarkable run, and Buffalo had a great year. Certainly, it’s no surprise that TCU and Boise State are having the kind of years they’re having,” Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick told the South Bend Tribune Oct. 22. “That’s the landscape of college football now. And I know our fans are so savvy and they follow the games closely that they’ll understand that.”

There are three non-BCS conference teams that Notre Dame should try to schedule: Utah, TCU and Boise State. These three teams are in the BCS discussion almost every season. Tulsa and Western Michigan are not.

Just because two random non-BCS teams, as Swarbrick points to Ball State and Buffalo, were decent last season doesn’t mean Tulsa and Western Michigan will be good next season. Yes, there are surprise schools every season, but it would be safer to schedule at least a lower level BCS team to ensure at least some stability.

Finally, and almost worst of all, next year’s schedule is just downright boring.
Sure, the numerical strength of schedule will probably end up being decent, but is anyone — outside of Tulsa and Kalamazoo — excited to see the Irish take on Tulsa or Western Michigan?

Proponents of the watered-down schedule will just say, “Well, everyone else is doing it.”
Yes, Florida played Troy State and Charleston Southern this year. The Gators, though, can fall back on a loaded SEC conference games against LSU, Georgia and Tennessee.
As an independent, the history of Notre Dame football is based on big games against varying opponents. Sure, the Irish have had memorable showdowns against USC and Michigan, but who can forget Catholics vs. Convicts in 1988 or the Snow Bowl in 1992?

Unless Jack Swarbrick and the athletic department have a pleasant surprise for us, it looks like those games are gone for the foreseeable future.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.