Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Art of Scheduling

We've been hearing a lot about how there's no room at the inn for the Alabamas of the world. That disturbs me, and based on what I'm reading on Rock's House, it disturbs you as well. So since I have too much time on my hands and my medicine keeps me awake, I took it upon myself to try and do Kevin White's job for the next couple of years.

Granted, I'm assuming all these contracts are doable. But given how "everyone is calling us", according to John Heisler, I'd like to think it could be done with little trouble.

I used these guidelines:
  • No more than seven home games in a given year.
  • A minimum of five road games in a given year if the team had seven at home, four if the team had six at home.
  • USC and Navy every year
  • Three Big East teams every year, but not starting right away
  • BCS conferences and Service Academies only, except where already signed
I tried to keep it as close as I could to a four-four-four philosophy, but no fewer than three tier-1 opponents and no more than four tier44 opponents.

I started with the contracts and dates as far as I know ND has without "buying out" anything. I did assume, however, the teams in question wouldn't be tied into specific dates and would, given incentive, be willing to move. These are all per Mike-ND's schedule page:

Purdue, SC and Navy through 2016
Michigan and Michigan State through 2011
Stanford through 2010
Washington 2009
Arizona State 2013/14
Pitt 2008 through 2015
Rutgers 2010-2016
Oklahoma 2013 and 2015
BYU 2010-2013
Nevada in 2009
BC through 2010


I already had five tier-2 opponents scheduled. Since one of the three tier-3s was Nevada, I decided to add a fourth tier-1 rather than a fourth tier-3, which meant I needed one home and one road tier-1 opponent. Since I needed two tier-1s for the 2010 season anyway, that would work out well. The trouble was spacing. I had Michigan up front, as usual, but SC wasn't until October 17th. Although I could go to December 5th if I wanted, most top-flight opponents would be locked into a potential conference championship game on that weekend.

My first call was to Knoxville, and since the Vols are always looking for opportunities to play us, we agreed we'd play in Knoxville on October 31st. I put the bye week on October 24th, and while that's a pretty time of year in SB, I felt we needed the week off between two kick-ass opponents. I put Navy in the November 7th slot. I didn't want to put BC in the October 10th position, since that would make it a trap game. So I called Washington, and offered them an additional home-and-home in 2018 and 2020 if they would be willing to move their game to the 10th. They agreed, and BC moved in to the slot on the 3rd.

Now I needed my tier-1 for November 21st. Trouble is, a lot of top teams are usually playing "rivalry games" that weekend. But the Big XII usually has their big games on or around Thanksgiving, so I made a quick call to Lincoln. The Huskers were very willing to get on the slate.

S05 Nevada (3)
S12 @ Michigan (1)
S19 Michigan State (2)
S26 @ Purdue (2)
O03 BC (2)
O10 Washington (2)
O17 Southern Cal (1)
O24 off week
O31 @ Tennessee (1)
N07 Navy (3)
N14 @ Pittsburgh (2)
N21 Nebraska (1)
N28 @ Stanford (3)

tiers: 4-5-3
location: 7-5-0
1 MW, 3 B10, 1 ACC, 3 Pac10, 1 SEC, 1 IND, 1 BE, 1 BigXII


The good news was thanks to my setup for 2009, I had the proper tier balance and home/road balance all set. All I had to do now was arrange them as intelligently as I could. I called West Lafayette and told them I wanted to move the game to September 25th, and they had no problem with that. That enabled me to put Rutgers on the 4th and Michigan on the 11th. So far so good.

We'd traditionally played Tennessee in November, so the 6th seemed like a good date. That meant we'd be going to Nebraska in October, and the 16th looked like it would give us good spacing. I put the bye on October 30th and the trip to BC on October 2nd. Stanford would come to town on the 23rd, and BYU on November 20th -- a dreaded blah-opponent-bad-weather game, but it had to go somewhere. That left the Navy game at the Meadowlands on the 13th.

S04 Rutgers (3)
S11 Michigan (1)
S18 @ Michigan State (2)
S25 Purdue (2)
O02 @ BC (2)
O09 Pittsburgh (2)
O16 @ Nebraska (1)
O23 Stanford (3)
O30 off week
N06 Tennessee (1)
N13 vs. Navy (Meadowlands) (3)
N20 BYU (3)
N27 @ Southern Cal (1)

tiers: 4-4-4
location: 7-4-1
2 BE, 3 B10, 1 ACC, 1 BigXII, 2 Pac10, 1 SEC, 1 IND, 1 MW


Now I had some flexibility. I only had eight games scheduled, and to get to my 4-4-4 model, I needed two tier-1s (home-away split), a tier-2, and a tier-3. It was time to get that third BE team on the schedule, so I signed a four-year home-and-home contract with West Virginia, and since my tier-2s were already on a 1-2 home-road split, I started the contract in South Bend.

Stanford was off the schedule, and I was in no rush to pick them up again. This created an end-of-year opening, which I hoped I could use for an attractive road game. But again, a lot of the premier teams would be tied up with conference championships.

Time to slot. SC is almost always the third Saturday in October when we're in SB, but I wanted a better flow, so they went on the 22nd. Rutgers was a good opening warmup; they went to September 3rd. Michigan and MSU went in their usual slots. This gave me a prime slot on October 1st for a tier-1 home game. I first thought of Texas, but with Oklahoma coming on the schedule in 2013, I wanted some more variety. We already had three Integer games, so Ohio State was out. So with Nick Saban running his mouth, I figured I'd give him what he wanted -- a home-and-home between the Fighting Irish and the Crimison Tide. BYU on the 8th and Purdue on the 15th gave us a nice run-up to Southern Cal, and the top part of the schedule was set.

Now for the bottom half, and back to my tier-1 list for a team possibly looking for a late-season home game. Late November on the road? I was thinking warm. I was thinking quality. I was thinking Hurricanes, who, seeing a chance to grab some attention from Florida/FSU that day, agreed to play on the 26th in Dolphin Stadium.

This, however, left me looking for a home game on November 12th or 19th. Even though I only had three tier-4 teams on the schedule, there was no way I was going to create a crap game in South Bend in November. So I went off the usual beaten path and invited Clemson. Granted, this put two home games during the crappy weather, but I was hoping the fact they were interesting opponents would put butts in the seats.

S03 Rutgers (3)
S10 @ Michigan (1)
S17 Michigan State (2)
S24 @ Pittsburgh (2)
O01 Alabama (1)
O08 @ BYU (3)
O15 @ Purdue (2)
O22 Southern Cal (1)
O29 Navy (3)
N05 off week
N12 Clemson (2)
N19 WVU (2)
N26 @ Miami (1)

tiers: 4-5-3
location: 7-5-0
3 BE, 3 B10, 1 SEC, 1 MW, 1 Pac10, 1 IND, 2 ACC


No crashes yet. Now I had even more flexibility, because Michigan and Michigan State had rolled off. I let the Wolverines go play with themselves, and told MSU we'd be taking a three-year break and sometimes interspersing them with other Integer teams. They were amenable.

I only needed two games this year, one of which would be a tier-1. But flow would be a major concern. With the Navy game in Dublin to start the year, I put the off week on September 8th to avoid any jet lag issues. With Navy and an off week to start, I needed a home powerhouse. Miami was due to come to South Bend, but I figured I'd go with a new face. With Oklahoma coming on the schedule the next year, the Big XII was out, so I went back to the SEC and a team that had expressed interest in a game, Georgia.

Now we were cooking. Pitt was already scheduled for the 22nd, so I wanted to go on the road the next week. Rutgers at the Meadowlands fit the bill, and since I'd heard October in West Virginia was very pretty, their trip came up next. October 13th is prime fall color season in South Bend, so what would be better than a home contest with the Hurricanes? Purdue and BYU following them up gave us a nice little homestand during the good-weather time.

Now November was on the screen. To keep the proper spacing, we gave Bama their return game on November 3rd. I put Clemson off a year for their return game and invited Cal for a home-and-home. With the trip to SC looming and the lack of an off week virtually all season, I dipped into the tier-3 bucket and brought Army in for a one-off home game.

S01 vs. Navy (Dublin) (3)
S08 off week
S15 Georgia (1)
S22 Pittsburgh (2)
S29 vs. Rutgers (Meadowlands) (3)
O06 @ WVU (2)
O13 Miami (1)
O20 BYU (3)
O27 Purdue (2)
N03 @ Alabama (1)
N10 Cal (2)
N17 Army (3)
N24 @ Southern Cal (1)

tiers: 4-4-4
location: 7-3-2
2 IND, 2 SEC, 3 BE, 1 ACC, 1 MW, 1 B10, 2 Pac10


Arizona State and Oklahoma were coming on board. Mike-ND's site didn't mention where the Oklahoma series would start, so that gave me some wiggle room. But I had current contracts going for 12 teams -- a 3-6-3 tier split, and a 2-1 home/road split for the tier-1s (6-6 overall), assuming I started Oklahoma in South Bend. The calendar was my friend -- I could go as early as August 31st and as late as November 30th for games, giving me two bye weeks if I wanted them.

Started with the easy ones. Rutgers was home, so they went on the 31st. Since I wanted to follow up with a powerhouse, Oklahoma would come to town the next week. Road trips to Purdue and BYU followed. WVU at home, following by the scheduled date vs. ASU and an off week, and our first half was set.

Cal was an obvious choice for the end-of-year trip, and we'd go to Georgia on November 16th, but I didn't want the end of the year to be too road-heavy. So I put Clemson off one more year. With a second off week on November 23rd, I needed an opponent for November 2nd. So I signed Vanderbilt to a two-for-one.

A31 Rutgers (3)
S07 Oklahoma (1)
S14 @ Purdue (2)
S21 @ BYU (3)
S28 WVU (2)
O05 Arizona State (2)
O12 off week
O19 Southern Cal (1)
O26 Navy (3)
N02 Vanderbilt (3)
N09 @ Pittsburgh (2)
N16 @ Georgia (1)
N23 off week
N30 @ Cal (2)

tiers: 3-5-4
location: 6-5-0
3 BE, 1 BigXII, 1 B10, 1 MW, 3 Pac10, 1 IND, 2 SEC


This was shaping up as a year I could clear some of the remaining contracts and start some new ones. Since we were already playing Rutgers on the east coast, the Navy agreed to play in San Diego, which I scheduled for November 15th. We'd open with Rutgers in the Meadowlands. I put Purdue on the 20th, and our long-owed trip to Clemson on the 27th. We'd close out the West Virginia contract in Morgantown on the 11th.

The problem here, though, was I already had six road or neutral-site games, and I still needed at least three tier-1 teams to get back to the 4-4-4 model. September 13th was begging for a quality game, so I got on the phone to Madison and signed up Wisconsin. October 4th was another prime candidate, and Texas would come calling. Finally on November 1st, we'd get Florida State. All three would involve at least one home and one road game, with possibly a neutral-site game mixed in.

S06 @ Rutgers (Meadowlands) (3)
S13 Wisconsin (1)
S20 Purdue (2)
S27 @ Clemson (2)
O04 Texas (1)
O11 Vanderbilt (3)
O18 @ WVU (2)
O25 @ Arizona State (2)
N01 Florida State (1)
N08 Pittsburgh (2)
N15 @ Navy (San Diego) (3)
N22 off week
N29 @ Southern Cal (1)

tiers: 4-5-3
location: 6-4-2
3 BE, 2 B10, 2 ACC, 1 BigXII, 1 SEC, 2 Pac10, 1 IND


Now I had some contracts I had to start filling. Oklahoma was already set for 2015, so I couldn't move that, and I had to give one other of my tier-1s their return game. I decided to make it Wisconsin since we already had Oklahoma on the slate representing the BigXII powers. I also needed another tier-1 for a late-season contest at home, and I had my age-old find-someone-for-the-last-game problem. In what is perhaps a deus-ex-machina solution, I convinced FSU to move their game with Florida up a week and host us on the 28th. I was short a tier-2 for home games, and I was short a BE team, so Louisville got a four-year home-and-home. The tier-3 I rounded out with a two-for-one against Kansas.

S05 Rutgers (3)
S12 @ Oklahoma (1)
S19 Michigan State (2)
S26 @ Purdue (2)
O03 @ Wisconsin (1)
O10 Kansas (3)
O17 @ Vanderbilt (3)
O24 Southern Cal (1)
O31 Navy (3)
N07 off
N14 @ Pittsburgh (2)
N21 Louisville (2)
N28 @ Florida State (1)

tiers: 4-3-2
l: 4-6-0
3 BE, 2 BigXII, 3 B10, 1 SEC, 1 Pac10, 1 IND, 1 ACC


2016 was setting up nicely -- I had six road/neutral games under contract with two of each tier. Now I needed corresponding home games. Rutgers was at the Meadowlands, as usual, so I needed a more exotic setting for Navy. They agreed to play in Jacksonville.

With the game at Texas, I had all my tier-1 contracts fulfilled, so it was time for two new ones. I looked over the list and figured it was time to get Penn State back on the schedule. UCLA hadn't been on board in a while, so they made a mid-October trip.

I was a Big East team short, and while I knew I still had one more Rutgers game, the timing was good for the USF home-and-home, so that started this year. That left me with one home games with a tier-2 to round it off, so dipped into the SEC and found Arkansas.

S03 vs. Rutgers (Meadowlands) (3)
S10 Penn State (1)
S17 Purdue (2)
S24 @ Michigan State (2)
O01 @ Texas (1)
O08 South Florida (3)
O15 @ Louisville (2)
O22 UCLA (1)
O29 week off
N05 vs. Navy (Jacksonville) (3)
N12 Kansas (3)
N19 Arkansas (2)
N26 @ Southern Cal (1)

tier: 4-4-4
location: 6-4-2
3 BE, 3 B10, 1 BigXII, 2 Pac10, 1 Ind, 1 SEC


Purdue's contract was up, so I gave them a two-year break to rotate in Iowa. Filling out the existing contracts, I had a pretty good mix. With Rutgers off, I needed a third BE team, so UConn got their home-and-neutral starting in Gillette Stadium.

That left me searching for home games against a tier-2 and a tier-1. We didn't have anyone in the ACC, so Virginia got a home-and-home for now and 2019. The SEC needed representation, so LSU got the same.

S02 @ Kansas (3)
S09 LSU (1)
S16 Virginia (2)
S23 Iowa (2)
S30 @ UCLA (1)
O07 week off
O17 @ UConn (Gillette) (3)
O21 Southern Cal (1)
O28 Michigan State (2)
N04 Navy (3)
N11 Louisville (2)
N18 @ Penn State (1)
N25 vs. USF (Citrus Bowl) (3)

tier: 4-4-4
location: 7-4-1
3 BE, 3 B10, 2 Pac10, 1 BigXII, 1 Ind, 1 ACC, 1 SEC


Once again, I had all my road games set, so I needed a bunch of home games -- two 1s, two 2s, and a 3. Again, I was a BE team short, so Cincinnati got their shot as the home 3. It had been a while since Miami had appeared, and I was going to need a warm-weather closer next year, so they signed up for a two-year deal. Ohio State was another tier-1 that hadn't appeared yet, so they would be coming to town on the 29th. With no BigXII and lower Pac10 representation, I got two of their tier-2s for home games in Colorado and Washington, who I owed anyway.

S01 UConn (3)
S08 @ LSU (1)
S15 Colorado (2)
S22 @ Iowa (2)
S29 Ohio State (1)
O06 Cincinnati (3)
O13 @ Louisville (2)
O20 @ Michigan State (2)
O27 Miami (1)
N03 week off
N10 vs. Navy (Meadowlands) (3)
N17 Washington (2)
N24 @ Southern Cal (1)

tier: 4-5-3
location: 6-5-1
3 BE, 1 SEC, 3 B10, 1 IND, 2 Pac10, 1 ACC, 1 BigXII


The Louisville contract was up, but with the addition of Syracuse replacing UConn, I had officially rotated through all the BE teams, meaning I could sign Pittsburgh to another 10-year home-and-home. Purdue came back after the Iowa interlude, but I chose to swap out Michigan State for two years in favor of Minnesota. Alabama and Nebraska were my new tier-1s.

Edit: And it seems I went a little overboard, forgetting to put the second off week in there and playing five tier-1 teams. So I took Alabama out and replaced it with a week off.

A31 Syracuse (3)
S07 @ Ohio State (1)
S14 Purdue (2)
S21 @ Virginia (2)
S28 off week
O05 Minnesota (2)
O12 @ Colorado (2)
O19 Southern Cal (1)
O26 off week
N02 Navy (3)
N09 Nebraska (1)
N16 @ Cincinnati (3)
N23 Pittsburgh (2)
N30 @ Miami (1)

tier: 4-5-3
location: 7-5-0
3 BE, 3 B10, 2 ACC, 2 BigXII, 1 Pac10, 1 IND

That's 11 seasons worth of games. Once I got going, I were able to accommodate the 4-4-4 model plus play three Big East teams every year. Granted, I've accumulated a couple of road IOUs here -- in 2020, SC and Navy and Purdue will be on the road, plus we'll owe Syracuse, Minnesota, Arkansas, Washington, Pitt and Nebraska return games. But I had big IOUs along this road before, and I always was able to pay them out with the occasional six-home-game season and by spacing things out carefully.

Provided the ridiculous 7-4-1 model is abandoned and ND is willing to show some flexibility, I think it can be done. And it should be done.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Timing is Everything

The Big East has finally released the planned conference slate for 2007-08. I was starting to think the expanded 18-game schedule had somehow flummoxed them, as this info is usually in front of folks sometime in June. But better late than never, I always say, and an important part of the scheduling puzzle is finally available to us.

ND's two-fer opponents will be Connecticut, DePaul, and Marquette, three teams that should be very attractive to ND basketball fans. Filling out the home and away schedules:

  • Cincinnati
  • Pittsburgh
  • Providence
  • St. John's
  • Syracuse
  • West Virginia

  • Georgetown
  • Louisville
  • Rutgers
  • Seton Hall
  • South Florida
  • Villanova

Some thoughts, as always.

The home schedule is very attractive. Just about every team on that home slate is expected to be competitive. DePaul and Marquette are long-time rivals and we can't play them enough for my taste. UConn, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are perennial conference contenders. West Virginia means Huggy Bear will be coming to South Bend as a coach for the first time. Cincinnati is a hotbed of ND alumni. No trips to Syracuse or Morgantown for the Irish this year, which is always a good thing.

Games in strong ND areas. At Georgetown means a game in D.C., at Villanova means Philly. No SJU, but Seton Hall is close enough for NYC. The wheelhouse will be more than served this season.

This slate will help the SOS. Just about all the conference games that might be considered "duds" for strength of schedule purposes like Rutgers or USF are on the road, which helps negate their deleterious effect. There are at least three challenging road tilts in Georgetown, Louisville, and Villanova. Unlike last season, the conference slate won't drag ND's selection chances down.

ND fans probably couldn't have asked for a more beneficial schedule. It's challenging without being murderous. It provides good home contests to whet the crowd's appetites. Good road destinations like Florida, D.C. and Philly. An ND hoops fans' dream.

Or it should be, anyway. There are still some bugs that could emerge in the system.

Bad Momentum. A quality conference schedule must be matched with an OOC slate of equal quality. As I noted, the BE assignment is challenging enough to keep our interest, but is hardly one to which we should be looking with dread. The same must be true of the non-conference grouping. A parade of cupcakes with RPIs on the wrong side of 250 like we had last season just will not work.

The low quality of opponent hurt ND's attendance last year, and they need some attractive non-conference matchups to get the momentum going for the crowd once Big East time arrives. While the bad home slate gave certain constituencies an excuse to stay away last year, this year the home schedule renders such whining moot. They shouldn't give the whiners an opening with a mediocre offering out of conference.

This is a seasoned team, and while it certainly has some holes to fill, there are more than enough experienced guys to do just that. The strength is in the junior and sophomore classes now, which means the freshmen won't have to jump in and contribute right away. These guys should be able to handle a couple of shots to the jaw before conference time, and there's no reason they shouldn't get two or three, with at least one of them in a true road environment.

In addition to the hoped-for matchup with Georgia Tech in the Virgin Islands, I'd like to see Mike Brey and company put together at least one strong matchup for ND at home and one away, and try to stay away from the sugary stuff we saw last year. There's certainly room for a cupcake or two, but LIU, Northern Illinois and Colgate should mean we're full up in that department. Give me a MAC or MW opponent or two to bridge the gap to the heavy hitters.

Bad Timing. It didn't help that three of ND's eight home conference games were already in the books by the time the students returned from Christmas vacation, and it hurt even more that one of the three was the best home game, Louisville. Having more and better home options this year will help, but I hope Kevin White and Mike Brey are impressing upon the Poobahs in Providence that the Irish don't need a front-loaded schedule. I'd like to see a maximum of two home games played without a student audience, and I'd like them to make sure DePaul and Marquette are weekend games.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Toil and Trouble

Down the stretch Mike Brey and the crew come, closing in on 10 Big East wins (which they should get at Rutgers even if things go wrong on Saturday vs. the Golden Gold). They've already passed the 20-win plateau in the regular season for the first time since the Sweet 16 season four years ago. Since no Big East team has ever been left out of the NCAAs with at least 10 conference wins and at least 20 overall wins, the Fighting Irish are a lock, right?

Wrong. It's despicable and senseless, but wrong.

The saying goes one should never speak in absolutes, but I've never been shy about doing so, so here goes: If things stay the way they are, no Notre Dame team even remotely on the bubble will ever make the NCAA tournament. If they can find a way to keep Notre Dame out, they will do so, no matter how the logic twists and turns.

For example, if ND loses two of its last three -- falls to Marquette, beats Rutgers, and loses in the first round of the EWSNBN, for example -- expect to hear a lot about (a) the non-conference SOS and (b) losing to SJU, USF, and [insert BET #12 seed here] as the reasons why they were kept out. Doesn't matter they're the first 10-BE-20-overall team not to make the tournament. It didn't matter they were one of (if not the) first 9-win BE team not to make the tournament four years ago, let alone that it happened to them twice. Whatever rule can apply to keep them out will be applied and all others will be ignored. There'll be furor, but in the end, no accountability. The story will waft away, just like it always does.

Sounds insane? It is, especially when you hear the reason.

Let's go back in time to March of 1990, the last NCAA tournament appearance for the Fighting Irish before the Decade of Dung began. Notre Dame was 16-13 as an Independent, and they were fighting with teams such as DePaul (who had swept ND that season) for a bid. Miracle of miracles, Notre Dame found itself in the tournament, where they got waxed by Virginia.

Jump forward to March of 1992, John MacLeod's first season. ND had faced 11 of the top 25 teams that season, most of them on the road during a 45-day span without a home game. They were just over .500, and were squarely on the bubble, but had a much better resume than they'd had two years before. Then they got screwed by a no-call in the waning moments at DePaul (sound familiar?) and even with an incredibly high SOS, were left out of the NCAA tournament (sound familiar?), getting to the NIT championship game instead (sound familiar?).

And ever since then, the bubble has been trouble. 1997. 2000. 2004. 2005. The list goes on, and it'll keep going on.

"Well, that's all well and good, Mike," you're saying now, "but you haven't told us the reason yet."

In a way, though, I have. And I'll give you a hint.

Between the first two dates we talked about -- March of 1990 and March of 1992 -- something momentous happened at Notre Dame, something that had never happened before at any school and has not happened since. It created incredible upheaval in the landscape of college athletics and affected every other major college athletics program.

The event? Notre Dame signed an exclusive contract with NBC to cover its home games in football.

To say the other schools were pissed is an understatement. They all lost out on their own television deal, which the networks demanded be re-negotiated since ND games in South Bend would not be included, which meant money came (and continues to come) out of their pockets. That contract means ND can afford to take the high road on moral issues like player suspensions, and doesn't have to crawl hat-in-hand to ESPN to get their games broadcast on Wednesday and Thursday nights. ND wins, every one else loses.

But what can they do about it? No school is going to turn down a football date with Notre Dame and the guaranteed national television audience (and boost to their season ticket bases if the contract included at least one home game) that comes with it, even if the Irish are in a down cycle. That's just making a bad situation worse, cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They were angry, but not stupid.

Outside of football, though? Ah ha. An opportunity to extract the pound (or more) of flesh. And what better sport to hit them where it might hurt (at least a little) financially than men's basketball?

Some of the responses weren't at all subtle, like Kansas pulling out of a planned four-game contract. But much of it was a lot more so, including that from the NCAA Selection Committee, which was (and still is) made up of AD's from schools that (for the most part) got screwed in the NBC deal.

Outlandish? Sour-grape-ish? I thought so too, because I didn't believe it when it was first mentioned to me after the screw job Matt Doherty's team got.

Then, a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to some folks at the various conferences for reasearch for a book I was considering (but haven't written ... yet). During small talk, I mentioned how I was getting tired of being on the wrong end of the bubble come NCAA time.

The conference person's response, summarized: "Unfortunately, you're probably going to have to get used to that unless that football contract goes away."

I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Are they really that petty? Did Pat Garrity get his title of "best ND player never to play in the NCAA tournament" because of the NBC deal? Is Mike Brey on the hot seat because other schools are pissed we get Hammond and Hayden and (until this season) crappy production value?

Apparently so. And that blows.

So don't quote past performance to me with regard to win totals and RPI or anything like that. It's all meaningless when it comes to Notre Dame. Because anything but a pristine above-reproach resume will have the Irish on the outside looking in every time, integrity of the Selection Committee be damned.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Which stands for the Event Which Shall Not Be Named, also known as the season-ending event for the Big East men's basketball season held in Madison Square Garden.

I've never hid my disdain for the Big East's post-season basketball tournaments. Contrary to popular belief, however, it's not because ND historically has not done well there. Rather, I hold disdain for ALL post-season conference basketball tournaments, Big East or otherwise. I believe they are a blight on the landscape of college basketball.

First, they render the regular season meaningless. The hard work a team has done over 10 or more weeks can be undone by a bad 20 minutes. Teams get postseason rewards they do not deserve, both on the positive side (a team that underperformed for most of the season gets hot for four days and gets a bid) and the negative side (a team losing seeding position, if not their bid itself, because of a bad game in a conference tournament).

Second, they can have an adverse effect outside the scope of their own conference. When a team that otherwise would not have received a bid to the NCAA tournament gets one by virtue of winning one of these abominations (let's call them Team A), that bid is not always given at the expense of another team in that conference (as it should). More often than not, a team in a different conference (let's call them Team B) is deprived of that NCAA berth. Yes, a reasonable argument can be made Team B could have done more in its season overall to ensure the bid. But Team B certainly did more during the season than Team A, because until Team A took their slot, Team B had a much better chance of inclusion due to a better resume.

Third, they exist solely to make money. Spare me the pleas about cool games and appealing matchups. The conferences want to milk the cash cow via the television rights. The school wants their cut by demanding high donations from alumni and fans to get the limited tickets. Ticket brokers have a field day from both sides.

Fourth, they promote unbalanced scheduling in conferences. If the EWSNBN did not exist, the Big East could play 18 conference games instead of 16, which would allow all teams to play each other at least once. Think the teams finishing just behind ND in the conference would have liked to see the Fighting Irish have to take on league-leading Pitt, possibly giving ND one more loss? Granted, the BE is going to 18 games next season anyway, but it's at the cost of two non-conference games that could be used to create compelling matchups. Instead, we'll probably see even fewer quality opponents out of conference while the 18-games-plus-tournament rule remains.

Fifth, they're physically dangerous for the players. I realize they're young, well-conditioned athletes. But they're also at the tail end of a long season. Few, if any, other sports at any level demands its participants play four two-hour high-energy games in four days in this manner. The situation almost begs for serious injuries, and I can't see most college coaches happily accepting a loss of a key player for the meaningful postseason.

I realize the tournaments are unlikely to go away any time soon, but I'm not going to let that stop me from railing against them.

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