Notre Dame and the 7-4-1 Schedule Model

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Notre Dame and the 7-4-1 Schedule Model
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Since the announcement of Notre Dame taking on Army at Yankee Stadium in 2010, I have thought quite a bit about the new scheduling paradigm in South Bend.

When I first heard about former AD Kevin White trying to implement the “7-4-1” schedule model, I thought that it made all the sense in the world. Who doesn’t want to play seven home games against four true road games with the fifth coming at a neutral site?

As time has passed though, I must admit that I started to question this philosophy for one simple reason—sustainability.

Here is what I mean:

With four true road games, that allows for eight traditional opponents on a home-and-home basis. Given tradition and recent scheduling history, this would be reserved for the following opponents: Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue (collectively, I refer to this as the Big Ten schedule), USC, Navy and three Big East opponents (which I believe was a commitment ND agreed upon a while back, but the exact details escape me right now.)

This leaves three home games a year without reciprocal away games, unless the “away” games are played at a neutral site with ND (or perhaps more properly, NBC) retaining TV rights to the game.

There aren’t a whole lot of teams that are willing to travel to South Bend without hosting the Irish for a game. This leaves bottom dwellers from BCS conferences, mid-Majors trying to prove themselves on a national stage, or programs desperately trying to increase exposure.

A large chunk of this was taken care of with a gentleman’s agreement with UConn that they have now backed out of by signing home-and-home deals with Michigan and Tennessee.

Notre Dame was supposed to play “away” games at either Gillette Stadium in Boston or Giants Stadium.

Why UConn has taken a holier-than-thou stance with thinking they are too good for this kind of deal with the most storied program in college football doesn’t make sense to me, especially since they have only been playing DI football for about a decade. A program like that could use the exposure and notoriety that comes with playing ND. What was once a 10-year deal has been cut back to five games starting this season.

This leaves the Irish trying to fill its schedule with matchups against Army and WAC/Mountain West opponents (Nevada this year, Utah plus probably Tulsa and TCU in 2010).

This is the part that is unsustainable for the Irish.

Top teams are paying big money for the weaker programs to play a one and done, with going rates somewhere around $1 million. I would prefer to see Notre Dame play some teams in the home-and-home format, which will allow for some more marquee games to take place (think Penn State, Boston College, Ohio State, Texas, Nebraska, LSU and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of games from the last 15 yrs.)

The thing I find most intriguing though, is the neutral site games. Technically, Notre Dame plays one every other year vs. Navy in Baltimore, but here is a rundown of what I have seen, with only a few confirmed so far:

2009 – vs. Washington State in San Antonio, TX

2010 – vs. Army at Yankee Stadium

2011 – vs. Army in Orlando, FL

2012 – vs. Navy in Dublin, Ireland

2012 – vs. Baylor in New Orleans, LA

2013 – vs. Arizona State in Dallas, TX

2013 – vs. Connecticut at Gillette Stadium

2014 – vs. Army in Orlando, FL

2014 – vs. Rutgers at Giants Stadium

 

The neutral site game is a great idea, but one thing that has lead to issues so far are the TV contracts in place. Since ND wants these to count as “home” games, the rights belong to NBC and the money goes to ND.

Given the recent big contract the SEC signed with CBS, I don’t see how the Irish could play an SEC team anywhere in SEC country without CBS trying to get the rights. Same goes for the Big 12 (ABC owns those) or the Pac 10.

What I like most about the neutral site game is that the games are scheduled to be played in fertile recruiting areas (Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and Louisiana) and should help ink a few prospects from these states.

Here are some match-ups that I would like to see at neutral sites:

vs. Florida or Florida State in Tampa Bay or Miami

vs. Georgia or Georgia Tech at the Georgia Dome

vs. LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi , Alabama or Auburn in New Orleans

vs. Oklahoma or Texas in Dallas (ND is scheduled to play the Sooners in 2012 and 2013)

vs. California, Stanford, Oregon or Oregon St. in San Francisco

vs. Maryland, Virginia or Va. Tech in Washington DC

vs. Penn State or Rutgers in Philadelphia

vs. Ohio State in Cincinnati, Cleveland or Detroit

vs. Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa or Minnesota in Chicago

vs. Missouri or Nebraska in St. Louis

vs. Boston College at Gillette Stadium

 

And I could keep going. Will any of these games actually take place? Probably not, but its fun to think of the possibilities—a bowl-type atmosphere in September or October has a lot of appeal to it.

All things said, I applaud the effort to institute the 7-4-1 scheduling paradigm, but I don’t think it can last. It forces ND to have to get a team to agree to constantly play road/neutral site games and requires lower quality opponents.

In an era where top programs are scheduling eight home games (which shouldn’t be allowed by the NCAA in my opinion), ND is going to have a difficult time finding teams willing play and make this schedule work.

Perhaps if they give up some of the TV rights for the neutral site games (because let’s face it, those games will still be on ABC, CBS or ESPN) then 7-4-1 could work.

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