Friday, January 19, 2007

Rebuilding a Brand, Part II: Let Me Check My Schedule

In Part I of my rebuild plan (readable here), I talked about changing the attitude regarding basketball at Notre Dame and the innate silliness of the phrase "football school".

Having burned the football bridge, I shall now attempt to cross it by suggesting the basketball program take a page from the gridiron hymnal in this rebuilding effort.

Years upon years ago, Knute Rockne built the ND football brand by barnstorming across the country. This ensured his nascent Fighting Irish program could be seen all over and plant a seed in the minds of fans. Those seeds grew into one of the most rabid fandoms ever seen in sport. Kevin White recently talked about neutral-site football games to recapture that spirit for the alumni and fans.

That used to be the basketball program's plan as well. New Year's games in Chicago against Northwestern. Annual trips to alumni strongholds like Dallas, Los Angeles, and the Northeast. Holiday games in Louisville against Kentucky powerhouses.

OK, that last one was because Adolph Rupp was a coward, but the point remains: Lots of people got to see ND basketball up close and personal. If it wasn't at their local basketball venue, it was on television thanks to Eddie Einhorn and the TVS empire.

A lot changed over the 20 years beteween 1980 and 2000, and when it came to adapting to and dealing with those changes, ND was more on the cliff's edge than the cutting edge. To rebuild their brand, they need to get back there.

The television aspect is already decent, and with the new Big East TV contract, it's going to get better. ND basketball fans will be able to watch every conference game on one of ESPN's outlets. The contract also has non-conference aspects, but we'll have to wait and see there. There's hope the stranglehold ESPN has had on non-conference contests will be relaxed.

The Internet aspect is good and improving. Free audio streams of Jack & Phonz are already available on, and word is they'll be adding even more non-conference game video streams next season. UND also carries audio and video of press conferences as well as the Mike Brey show, so there's no shortage of coverage for the savvy electronic maven.

Unfortunately, media coverage is only (or some might say, less than) half the battle. Most of the people who will watch those games are already fans. Notre Dame needs to reach out and start regrowing its fanbase, and the best way to do that is via its schedule.

The 2006-07 schedule, to be kind, sucked dog meat. Way too many home games against no-name teams. Way too many home games while the students weren't on campus. Way too many uninteresting matchups. As a result, I'm not sure I've seen 11,418 announced as an attendance yet, and while that many tickets may have been sold for a game thus far, I find it unlikely that many fannies were in the seats.

So, how to improve?

First, let's review some facts:
  • Teams are allowed 28 games per season with a 30-game cap
  • Conference tournaments no longer count against the maximum
  • The Big East will go to 18 conference games next season, meaning teams can schedule 10 non-conference games
Within that framework, I have the following suggestions:

Get UCLA back on the schedule. That game was a natural for decades. I can see why the Bruins might not want to travel during the Pac10 season, so let's make it an early-season made-for-television matchup. Play the games in LA Thanksgiving Friday (the night before the football team plays SC there), and play the games in SB the Sunday before Thanksgiving at noon (which will oftentimes be the day after a home football contest, meaning people might stick around). If the games are pinned to specific dates, people will start scheduling around them, making them a stronger event.

Keep Indiana off the schedule. The losing streak and road-loss streak are done, so it's as good a time as any for a break. There's no such thing as a home court advantage when ND plays the Hoosiers at the JC. There are a number of other Integer teams we should be looking to get, including Michigan State (fourth-most played team ever, but haven't played them regular season since 1975 and at all since 1979), Illinois, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Home-and-homes or 1-1-1 contracts rotating between those squads makes for captivating schedules.

Utilize invitational tournaments. The "two-in-four" rule, which limited a team to two appearances in exempted preseason tournaments every four seasons, has blowed up real good. Notre Dame is the kind of program that will benefit from the change, because their name recognition will be a big plus to tournaments such as the Guardians Classic (or whatever they're calling it now). They're also advantageous in that they give ND up to three actual games while only dinging them for one against the maximum, and usually at least one of those games is a manageable win and at least one is a quality opponent on a non-home floor.

I feel like I'm cheating suggesting this, because based on future schedule discussions, ND is already looking to go down this road. The Fighting Irish will be playing in the USVI Tournament next season and the Maui Classic the season after that. Word is a return to the PNIT is scheduled four years from now, and the Guardians would like them for the season in between. The Great Alaska Shootout hasn't seen ND in quite a while, and new exempted tournaments are springing up all over the place these days.

Barnstorm. The football team is putting packages together to get itself in front of alumni. No reason the basketball team can't do the same thing. And they should do what they used to do -- travel over the holidays.

As I said, there were too many home games this season overall, and particularly too many while the students were away on break. A student-free Joyce Center doesn't have a good potential for atmosphere, even with the non-student fans getting as involved as they can.

But other strong alumni areas might have better atmospheres. Students are home on break. Families are looking for things to do together. And a hotel is a hotel, so it shouldn't matter much to the team where they are.

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is also starting to look at strength of schedule as a determining factor for bids. Loading up on home games, as the Fighting Irish did this season, will start to hurt the team in their efforts to get a high tournament seed, let alone a bid in the first place. Road or neutral site games might help the tournament resume.

Digger used to promise recruits at least one "home game" during their four-year career. Granted, it was easier to do as an independent with 15+ variable games to toss around, but it might be a nice carrot for Mike Brey & company.

Some places the team should consider, based on the size of their alumni clubs:
  • Chicago. Every New Year's Eve, Notre Dame and Northwestern used to play at the old Chicago Stadium. It became an event in and of itself. Playing the Wildcats at the United Center would be a good draw. Perhaps Wisconsin would agree to a 1-1-1 with the third game at the UC or the new Sears Center in the northwest suburbs. Other neutral-site possibilities would be Illinois State or Northern Illinois, both of whom would probably accept a Chicago game in lieu of a home date.

  • Detroit. Notre Dame / Michigan State at Ford Field. Definitely wouldn't be neutral, but it'd be interesting. If not that, I'm sure they could work something out at the Palace and bring in a local school.

  • Los Angeles/San Francisco. I already talked about LA with the Bruins, but USC is another interesting possibility. Plus there's no shortage of candidates from the California college system. Up north, Cal and Stanford are logical choices, as would be long-ago foe San Francisco.

  • Washington, D.C.. While Georgetown games would cover this area, it's not guaranteed Notre Dame would play them in D.C. every year. The occasional matchup with Maryland would be nice, as would George Washington.

  • Boston. BC's departure from the league has left a bit of a void in this area of New England. I'd bet UMass or Holy Cross would love a game at the Garden.

  • Dallas. Texas isn't the most fertile recruiting ground for ND basketball, but Carlton Scott is coming on board and it'd be nice to give him a game in front of the home crowd. Plenty of choices, from Texas to SMU.

  • Atlanta. A matchup with the Bulldogs would draw a lot of attention. Or perhaps Florida would agree to a neutral-site contest
If Notre Dame is going to re-enter the hearts and minds of its fan base in basketball, they have to put themselves out there. 20 games at home per season, most against teams over 250 in the RPI, is not going to get that done. They need to get out of the house and pick on a couple of the big kids if they want the attention.



Anonymous irish65domer said...

Atlanta is also the home of Georgia Tech, who would be a very worthy opponent, and whom we have visited in the past.

1/19/2007 08:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With the wealth of BB talent in Metro Washington/Baltimore, ND should play EVERY year is this area. Goergetown, Maryland, George Washington, George Mason, UMBC, etc. It woulod help recruit this basketball-rich area.

1/20/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've made some good points, but I have to take exception with the notion of keeping Indiana off of the schedule. Coach Sampson is doing an admirable job with the Hoosiers, off to a 14-4 start having just beaten UConn. His "defense first" minded squads plays well with IU fans, as opposed to Mike Davis who had an offensive mindset. With a very good recruiting class coming in for next year it looks like some positive things are in store for the crimson-and-cream program. IU has the storied tradition. Notre Dame would be smart to get them on the schedule if Sampson indeed has them on the right track.

1/20/2007 07:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They should play The University of Dayton as well. Dayton is a very proud basketball school and town and the teams used to play on a regular basis. Dayton is a medium sized Ohio Catholic university thas also has a large Notre Dame following already. Their new coach Brian Gregory has been the recruitor for the likes of Izzo and Petino, so they are looking at becoming a yearly contender for the A-10 and a NCAA tournament regular as well

1/21/2007 09:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

have you looked at any other teams schedules? granted ours is not worse than usual, however everyone plays schools like the pushovers we played over break. and say we schedule ucla, a big ten school, an sec or acc school, and maybe a big 12 school, add that to uconn, pitt, syracuse, villanova, georgetown, west virginia, louisville, cincinnati, etc. and that's an unrealistic schedule. mike davis got fired at IU for playing too tough a schedule and going about 17-12. playing big time opponents doesn't do much good if you lose to them all.

1/21/2007 10:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that they should play the University of Dayton as well. Dayton is a very proud basketball school and town and the teams used to play on a regular basis. Dayton is a medium sized Ohio Catholic university thas also has a large Notre Dame following already. New coach Brian Gregory has been the recruitor for MSU/Izzo and Petrino and they are really upgrading the UD program. Another suggestion, get the Alumni Clubs in Dayton, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, and all the cities where the team takes on a local team to show up en masse and make it a package deal with an appearance by the team afterwards and a "tailgate type" party, hoops style. The Dayton Alumni Club has done that the past few years for the Women's Program since Meghan Duffy was a Dayton HS product. We easily put as many ND fans in the stands as Cincinnati or Dayton did for their home team. It was impressive and really fun. Try that with the Men!!

1/23/2007 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe games against SEC teams and ACC teams would be best. Schedule UNC or Duke in the ACC and Florida and continue playing Alabama. The irish need to play AT strong conferences to get recruits watching the other team interested in Norte Dame. Also, take advantage of Austin Carr in the recruiting process. He was without doubt the best player to come through ND.

1/24/2007 04:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I remember as a young teen going to see notre dame at the palestra and the civic center here in philly. the players I remmber most were david rivers and lionnel simmons and laphonso elis and doug overton. I have been to a few of the nova-nd games here but if you know anything about philly basketball nova is not the most well liked school in the big five. I've gotten up to nyc for nd-st johns a couple times also. no one brings out the fans like the irish.

1/25/2007 03:20:00 AM  

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