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Swarbrick discusses scheduling strategy, future of Notre Dame football

| Thursday, August 29, 2019

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick met with The Observer on Wednesday and discussed the upcoming football and basketball seasons, the new athletic practice facility and more. This first of several stories will focus on Swarbrick’s views and strategies of the Irish football schedule to come. Swarbrick stated that while there are many factors that put opponents on the Irish schedule, potential for inclusion in the College Football Playoff is paramount.

“The first criterion is the likely impact of our case for being included in the College Football Playoff,” he said. “You want to play the teams and the programs that you think have a high likelihood of being amongst the contenders for the postseason. That can be hard to predict under the timelines that we work under, but that is number one.”

Swarbrick cited specific football powerhouses as keys to keeping the Irish in playoff contention and how new matchups compare with classic rivals.

“You also love institutions with proud football traditions,” he said. “Playing Georgia, and we have Ohio State coming up, we have Alabama coming up, Wisconsin, they all fall into that category. I love the energy of doing a couple of games with a program that we have not played in a while. I understand the comparable attraction of rivals that you play a lot, but the energy of playing Georgia has been great. We’ll have the same thing with the Wisconsin series.”

When the College Football Playoff expanded the postseason field to four in 2013, all athletic directors had to reconsider how they would schedule games to gel with the new format. Almost immediately following the College Football Playoff’s inception, there has been speculation about an eventual expansion to an eight-team field. As the landscape of college football’s postseason has shifted, Swarbrick has remained steady in his scheduling plan.

“The core philosophy is we have to build a schedule where we can make the case that our twelve games are as good as anyone’s thirteen,” he said. “That’s why we have never played an FCS opponent — only two schools in the country can say that. That’s why we take on these high-profile games. Whether it’s the BCS or the four-team playoff or if something happens in the future, I think that’s still the touchstone.”

Observer File Photo
Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick looks during the men’s basketball team’s 64-60 win over Georgia Tech in 2017.

Playing as competitive of a schedule as Swarbrick seeks requires the team to travel nationwide. Last season’s schedule took the Irish to San Diego, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City, and next year’s Navy game will take place in Dublin. Swarbrick emphasized that while the national and international nature of the Irish brand helps recruit prospects in the long run, it is not a matter of traveling to desired places to meet with recruits.

“Traveling is not as important to recruiting as some people think, because you are limited in what you can do in terms of interacting with recruits when you travel,” he said. “It’s more about the story it tells about Notre Dame’s commitment to be national than it is about actually being in a market.”

According to Swarbrick, the Irish have reached a number of new heights in their scheduling strategy.

“We are the only school ever to play in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago in the same year,” he said. “We have played in more NFL stadiums than any team in the country. We play in more major markets than any team in the country. It helps reinforce the notion that we are a uniquely national institution, and that helps in recruiting, but it’s not about going to any particular market to recruit.”

With Irish fans spread out all across the country, Swarbrick says it is important that the team travel to all Irish fans.

“This place is unique in the percentage of its fan base that did not attend the school — subway alums if you will,” he said. “We want to make sure we get to the places with high concentrations of those fans, and that interest is very important to us. The experience in San Diego [against Navy] last year was simply amazing. The place was sold out, it was predominantly Notre Dame fans. It was a great reminder of the value of doing things like that.”

Swarbrick also commented on how the team’s national and international coverage coincide with the University’s mission.

“We’re fortunate that with our partnership with NBC and away games on the ACC network that we’re getting really good international distribution of our broadcasts, which is helpful,” he said. “Being able to go overseas occasionally reinforces that. When we can do it in a place where Notre Dame has an interest, like Ireland, we would love to go to other places where Notre Dame has a campus in the future.”

It is often difficult to convince college football’s best teams to take on marquee out-of-conference competitions, and some believe the team’s agreement to play five ACC games per season will make this even more difficult. Swarbrick sees it as an excellent match, with the ACC being a conference that will continue to trend upward in the coming years.

“The ACC has been a phenomenal partner in football scheduling,” he said. “They have worked with us and created the opportunity for us to keep games with USC and Stanford and Navy and schedule the Georgia game and the Michigan game this year. They have been great partners. I’m especially excited about the future of the conference when I think about what the profile of the football programs is. Obviously, Clemson’s the standard bearer in the country, but I see a lot of programs in the ACC with an upward trajectory right now.”

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