Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pulling Off the BYU Equivalent of Notre Dame's Scheduling

BYU to the Big12?
I have tried to avoid chiming in too much on the Big XII expansion circus thus far, for several reasons: 1) the information available is primarily rumor, 2) the situation is changing constantly, 3) the drivers of change are closer to hurt feelings and daytime drama than to dollars and analysis, and 4) there is little doubt that BYU would be the obvious choice for Big XII expansion if it goes that way, so the question is really whether BYU should accept or not if an offer comes--and again I believe that this decision is going to be based more on the hearts (of the board of trustees) than the mind (and associated analysis).

My preference actually would be for BYU to remain independent and be wildly successful as such (so much could go wrong… but so much could go right—the age-old risk/reward tradeoff). I love that nearly all of their games are on ESPN. I love BYUtv as a Cougar sports channel. I love that they can play in stadiums all over the country and the nation-wide fan access that this provides. (I realize that this isn't a high priority for the average Utah County Cougarboarder, but living in Northern CA, it would be great to see the Cougs play out here, and when traveling to a game, it is about the same cost to go to Austin as it is to go to Provo).

Clearly there are dozens of other factors that will play into this--TV rights, Sunday play, how to handle the WCC relationships, increased revenue, BCS access, conference championships, etc. But for me, its hard to get any more excited about playing Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri, and Kansas State (that is likely the division we'd be in) than it was to play New Mexico and Colorado State and Wyoming every year. In fact, give me San Diego State, UNLV, TCU, and Air Force over that alternative.

With all that in mind, however, there is one thing that could break independence for me: inability to schedule beyond Idaho State, Idaho, Weber State, New Mexico State and San Jose State during the latter part of the season. I think those are great games for this year and next, while we get this going, but if it were to go beyond that, the old MWC schedule would have been better, and a Big XII schedule would definitely be an upgrade.

So to consider this question, I took a look at Notre Dame's scheduling philosophy to see how they have managed to do it so successfully, and in particular, schedule games during the latter half of the season, to see if there is anything that BYU could learn from and/or imitate. We’ll break down Notre Dame’s approach, and try to map it to an equivalent one for BYU, and see if it appears reasonable.

Here are a few observations from reviewing Notre Dame's recent schedules (from the most recent 6 seasons and next year, 2006-2012):

Annual Games
• They play 8 teams consistently, nearly every year, on a home and away basis, leaving just four games to “schedule”. These include:
     o 1 religious rival (Boston College)
     o 4 regional rivals (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Pittsburg*)
     o 2 strategic West Coast schools (Stanford and USC), thus guaranteeing a game on the coast in recruiting rich, donor-dense, NorCal and SoCal in alternating years
     o 1 historical rival and independent (Navy) that is often played at a neutral site (NJ, NY, TX, Ireland)

“Scheduled” Games
• They generally play 2 games that are part of home and away series (one at home and one on road on average) with respected schools from either the ACC or PAC12, also strategically located on the highly populated West Coast or Middle Atlantic
• They play one of the other service academies almost every year (either Army or Air Force)—FWIW… 5 games over the 7 years analyzed
• They generally play 1 (or 2 if not playing Army or Navy) home game in a “one and done” against a team from the MWC, WAC, MAC, CUSA (no Sun Belt), and the Big East (excepting Pitt, who they play every year), with the Big East being the one turned to most often

• First game of the season is usually one of the “scheduled” games
• Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue are always played in September in consecutive weeks, though rarely beginning with the first game of the season
• Home game vs. either USC or Stanford is nearly always played around the midpoint in October
• Boston College is always the second half of the season (Oct or Nov)
• USC or Stanford (whichever is on the road that season) is always the last game in November on Thanksgiving weekend
• …Leaving Pittsburgh, Navy, and 3 “scheduled games” to fill 5 slots in Oct/Nov
     o Navy and Pitt are annual partners, thus anticipating games during Oct and Nov
     o Of the “scheduled” games, one is often a service academy which can schedule flexibly during those months
     o Another is generally a “one and done” money game, from a league that would allow late-season scheduling exceptions (MWC, WAC, MAC, CUSA, BE)
     o Only one home/away “scheduled” game against the PAC12 or ACC would need to be scheduled during Oct/Nov (since the other could be done in Sept)

Other Interesting Observations
• No games against the SEC
• No games against Texas schools, although it would seem to be a strategic recruiting location. Only TX game was a neutral game.
• They are playing an international game against Navy in Ireland, which will be the first game of next season (for travel reasons, it is likely that any international game would have to be the first game)

So the summary for Notre Dame is that they have 8 annual games, leaving only 4 to “schedule” and of those, only one that would generally need to be scheduled during the hard-to-schedule months of October or November. That is doable. Quite a system—I sense a bit of envy coming from Tom Holmoe’s office these days.

Applied to BYU
Now for some analysis-influenced speculation…Could BYU successfully replicate that approach? If so, what would/should it look like?

Annual Games
• They would ideally play 6 annual games on a home/away basis
     o 1 arch-rival (Utah)
     o 2 regional schools (Utah State, Boise State)
     o 1 historical and strategic rival (Hawaii)
     o 1 religious peer and independent (Notre Dame)
     o 1 strategic regional annual game (UNLV), allowing for a game at BYU’s home away from home, every other year, perhaps late in the season

“Scheduled” Games
• 1 Service academy (Army, Navy, or Air Force), in home/away or neutral. This should be reasonable given history with Air Force, and the other two also being independent
• 2 games in the strategic states of California (or OR/WA) and Texas (or OK, AR, LA)—should be sure to play at least every other year. So many fans and potential recruits in both of these areas, that the team should try to travel to each of these places at least once per season. Options include CA (SDSU, USC, UCLA, Stanford, Cal, SJSU, Fresno, Oregon, Oregon St, Washington, Washington St, or neutral games in LA or SF) and TX (TCU, Texas, SMU, Texas A&M, Baylor, Rice, Houston, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, OSU, Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, Tulane, LSU, or neutral games in Dallas—BYU likely wouldn’t play in small stadiums like North Texas)
• 1-2 games as the back side of trips to CA and TX, since unless these were neutral or one-off, there would have to be home games alternating years.
• 1 “one and done” home game against an FCS school or lower FBS school such as Idaho
• 1-2 games with other national programs of significance, in locations of interest to BYU fans, football tradition, or the school’s mission.

• The real key to timing is which schools could BYU get to play them in October and November. Would they be able to get 8? Six would be easy--you could count on Utah State, Hawaii, Notre Dame, a service academy, the “one and done”, and UNLV. So, the Cougars would need to be able to schedule 2 of the others during either Oct or Nov—doesn’t seem to difficult—perhaps Boise and one of the Texas or CA schools.

After looking that over, surprisingly, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch—Utah, USU, and Hawaii are already on board. Extend contracts with Boise and Notre Dame. Set something up with UNLV. Get the service academies on board. The one and done will be easy. That leaves 4 games to schedule, several of which are already on the books, and only two of which need to be in Oct or November.

Although I haven’t yet dialed any numbers from the AD’s office, it’s enough for me to retain my hope in Independence.