Presumably, this exercise is an inherent part of “monitoring the landscape.” But this apparently is another one of Kevin White’s empty, misleading phrases – along the lines of “barnstorming,” “Sunday through Friday,” etc. Over the last eight years, ND’s schedules have been near the top in terms of ambitiousness – plenty of elite opponents, and fewer home games than most. But under White’s 7-4-1 (8-4) scheduling model, ND’s schedules will be the least ambitious among all elite teams.
I compared schedules from 2000-2007 for 17 elite teams: Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech. The two criteria I used are (1) number/percentage of elite opponents played, and (2) home-away-neutral splits. Although a future schedule might look very different now than it will in the next 5-10 years, these two factors seem as reliable as any in terms of attempting to make the schedule as challenging as possible.
Notre Dame’s 2000-2007 schedules compare very favorably to those of other elite teams based on both criteria I used. First, the home-away-neutral splits, ranked in order from most ambitious (lowest percentage of home games) to least:
During this eight-year period, elite teams scheduled as few as four true road games in only 52 out of a total of 136 seasons (.382). Note: LSU is credited with scheduling only four road games in 2005, even though the Arizona State game was moved from Baton Rouge to Tempe because of Hurricane Katrina. For Notre Dame, the neutral-site games vs. Navy are counted as “road” games; the 2002 Kickoff Classic vs. Maryland at Giants Stadium was the lone “neutral” game.
And here’s the ranking of total number of “elite” teams played by each elite team from 2000-2007:
Two facts jump out from this list. First, the top six teams are all from the SEC, which is not surprising because that conference has the most elite teams (six), split evenly between the East and West divisions. Florida plays three elite conference opponents every season (Tennessee, Georgia and LSU), plus an elite non-conference opponent every season (FSU), and they play Auburn more often than not. In both 2002 and 2006, Florida played a whopping six elite opponents, more than any other team on this list in the last eight years (and even more than ND’s epic schedules of 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1989).
Second, Notre Dame has scheduled more elite opponents than any non-SEC team since 2000. Southern Cal’s relatively low ranking is surprising at first, but the Trojans are the only true elite football team in the Pacific 10 Conference, so they rarely play more than two elite opponents per year (ND and another non-conference elite opponent).
I then combined these two lists, with one point assigned for each team’s ranking on each list, to come up with rough aggregate “Ambitiousness Index.” Predictably, Notre Dame’s long-standing scheduling philosophies put it very close to the top:
1. Tennessee 8
2. Notre Dame 10
3. Miami 12
4. Florida State 13
5. Florida 14
6. Southern Cal 15
7. Michigan 16
8. Penn State 17
9. Georgia 19
(tie) Auburn 19
11. Alabama 20
(tie) LSU 20
(tie) Texas 20
14. Ohio State 22
15. Oklahoma 24
16. Virginia Tech 26
17. Nebraska 28
We can’t compare teams’ future schedules yet, because they aren’t completed. But we can answer this question: Where would Notre Dame rank on the above three lists if the White scheduling model had been in place for the last eight years? The answer is depressing.
Because the neutral site “barnstorming” game is really a home game based on the same criteria that apply to the other elite teams, the White model would have ND playing 66.7 percent of their games at home every year – making it the least ambitious (17th out of 17) home-away split among elite teams. The result would be the same even if the “barnstorming” game was counted as a true neutral game (half home, half away). The split under that generous analysis would be 7.5 home and 4.5 away per year, or 62.5 percent at home – still less ambitious than the 62.0 percent scheduled by Auburn and LSU.
ND also would have been the only elite team not to play as many as five true road games at least once in the last eight years. Even Auburn played five road games in 2001, 2002 and 2003, and LSU did so in 2002-2003 and will again this year. ND's percentage of seasons with only four true road games would be 100 percent, versus just 38.2 percent for the other 16 elite teams combined.
The percentage of elite games would only be slightly better. At a rate of two per year, ND would have played just 16 out of its 92 total games against elite opponents, or 17.4 percent – giving ND a ranking of 12th, just behind Ohio State with its patsy-laden non-conference schedules of recent vintage. And since ND will be playing 12-game schedules every year, the future percentage of elite opponents will be even lower – just 16.7, still good for 12th place.
ND’s total “Ambitiousness Index” rating under the White model would consist of 17 points for the home-away split and 12 points for the percentage of elite opponents, for a total of 29 points -– two more than Nebraska’s adjusted total -– for a ranking of dead last among elite teams.
Have White or his minions been monitoring this landscape? There is no answer to this question that would exculpate them. If they haven’t monitored this, they’re guilty once again of gross negligence and incompetence. And if they have monitored this, they’re intentionally trying to make a mockery of ND’s scheduling practices.
It is unfathomable how anyone but a street-walking revenue whore could believe these results would be in the best interests of Notre Dame football.