Notre Dame football: Swarbrick discusses NCAA structure, ND football future and more in Q&A

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- It was only a matter of moments before Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s summer beard lost its distinction as the most prominent feature on his face.

A scowl quickly grabbed that qualification.

That’s when the subject of the Irish football team’s 2014 schedule — and beyond — came up.

“No matter how hard I try to explain it, it just doesn’t work,” Swarbrick said of next year’s yet-to-be revealed slate.

If you’ve tracked all the stories about opposing schools claiming they are on ND’s dance card next year, you end up with a number greater than the NCAA limit of 12 regular-season games.

The Shamrock Series game, though, will be a part of it somehow, somewhere. It’ll be incarnation No. 5 for the off-site home game that has set up shop in San Antonio, Texas; New York; Landover, Md., and Chicago to date.

“Essentially what you’re doing with the Shamrock Series is taking one of your games that might otherwise be a home game and moving it,” Swarbrick said. “So there’s nothing about our scheduling dynamic that really impacts that. We can move any game and make it the Shamrock game.”

Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan, Stanford, Louisville, Wake Forest and North Carolina are the projected home games/candidates for that game.

“You do it in consultation with your partner. You don’t do it unilaterally,” Swarbrick said of choosing the game. “So you say, ‘Here’s an idea. How about this time we take this game here?’ And if they don’t want to do it and they really want to come here, then we would let them do that. But I think a lot of schools see the benefits.

“It’s going to be a prime-time broadcast. The excitement that has surrounded these games has been great, so I’m not worried about finding opponents for those games.”

The scowl then disappeared and Swarbrick went on to opine on a number of topics, including the future of the NCAA, the college football playoff format, the state of Notre Dame football and more:

Q: How do you see the state of the NCAA and do you see some kind of restructuring as imminent?

A: “It’s hard to ignore the sentiments expressed by each of the five (conference) commissioners during their media days, which certainly suggests a level of momentum toward reform that I think is clear.

“The distance between some consensus that you need it and what it is ... is not known. It’s not obvious. The hard part comes next. OK, if everyone agrees we need it, what is it? And that will be a process.

“Is there strong momentum? Yes.. Will it produce meaningful reform? Time will tell.”

Q: Do you think it’s possible exploring reform will eventually lead to some schools breaking away from the NCAA?

A: “I don’t sense any interest in that among my colleagues. But I think it would be wrong not to acknowledge it. When you head down a road like this and start this process, you don’t know where it will take you, but there’s no momentum for it that I can sense.”

Q: From Notre Dame’s standpoint, do you see it as a positive? Will it be good for Notre Dame?

A: “It’s hard to predict, because you don’t know the outcome. But would Notre Dame benefit if the organization that’s responsible for collegiate athletics were in a better position right now? Absolutely. And functioning more effectively? You bet.”

Q: College football hasn’t played its first four-team playoff yet, and already there are a lot of people saying, “Let’s make it bigger.” Is it possible to make it bigger, given the contract? And what are your thoughts about making it bigger than four teams?

A: “There’s nobody who’s involved in this process who didn’t understand that the moment we announce the four-team playoff, people would want us to expand. Our goal, the way we structured it, is to have it stay this way for a prolonged period of time — set up around a 12-year model.

“I suppose anything could change, but my hope is that everyone will relax and see how it goes first. Let’s get some experience with the four-team model, because all of the factors that drove us to a four-team model are not going away.

“Not conflicting with the end-of-the-year calendar, protecting the bowl system, most importantly protecting the regular season — - those were the driving forces in our decision, along with student-athlete safety. And nothing about them has changed.”

Q: Are you involved in helping to determine the makeup of the playoff selection committee and if so, what’s the process like?

A: “All of the commissioners and I were involved with thinking through the criteria of the qualifications and developing a candidate pool, if you will. But I’m not involved beyond that. That’s being administered by Bill Hancock (executive director of the College Football Playoff), who’s engaged in the conversations with potential members of the selection committee.”

Q: What’s the status of the stadium expansion/renovation study?

A: “It’s a remarkable process that really touches every part of the university. There are multiple committees with a lot of members putting in extraordinary work this summer, and it’s gone very, very well in terms of the process.

“In some ways, it’s the quintessential Notre Dame experience, because you’re sitting there in committees with faculty members and administrators, football staff and athletic staff, and the university architects’ office and consultants.

“So it’s everybody coming together to think about this concept of, ‘Can we make this a compelling year-round asset for the university?’’ And the dialogue has been great. The progress has been very significant. I just couldn’t feel better about the process itself.”

Q: When is the endpoint of the study itself?

A: “Sometime in the fall of this year, this group, led by (ND executive vice president) John Affleck-Graves will make a report back to the leadership of the university regarding feasibility — what we might include and how that would take shape and how much it would cost?

Q: I know FieldTurf, JumboTron are not on the immediate horizon, but are there going to continue to be incremental changes designed to enhance the home gameday experience?

“The students, on their initiative, are approaching having a different approach to seating, designed to get the students to come in earlier.

“Again, this was at the initiative of the Leprechaun Legion, the student support group. So that’s one. I think the pregame atmosphere may become more dynamic because of it.

“We continue to refine what we do. I can’t think of anything on the order of introducing music that we’re going to do this year.”

Q: We talked about the FieldTurf back in the spring when you announced the field would remain natural grass for the coming season. At the time you sounded happy with what happened with the natural grass last year. It sounds, though, like you’ll be monitoring it again this year to see if you get a repeat performance.

A: “Absolutely, last year was better. Can we produce a comparable result again? Consistency is really going to be important, but if we move forward with the stadium renovation, that’s going to play another factor in this.

“Does it adversely affect our ability to maintain the turf during the offseason?”

Q: Here’s the most important question of this interview: Is “Crazy Train” on the playlist this year?

“I’m sure it is. I don’t review the playlist, but I’d be shocked if it wasn’t. I realize the humor of that question, but it’s really important to emphasize the role we give the students in this.

“They’re working on the playlist. They’re generating new ideas to create enthusiasm. We want our students creating new traditions that they’ll hold onto with the same passion that our alumni hold onto the traditions that were created when they were here.

“So we have to give our current students the freedom to do that. I think they’ve acted very responsibly on it.”

Q: What are you thoughts on dynamic ticket pricing — a model based on supply and demand — and do you think it will eventually find its way to Notre Dame?

A: “It’s too early to tell. We have an unusual system that’s not a complication, but it just makes it different, and that’s our lottery system. So even you wanted to do it, there are significant questions of how you’d connect the dynamic ticket model system to a lottery system.

“So, no I don’t see anything around the corner, but it’s our job to track all of that, understand what other people are doing and how it works and why they’re doing it.”

Q: Why are they doing it?

A: “A big reason why they’re doing it is you hate to transfer all of that value to the secondary market. That’s not good for the university. It’s not good for our football program. It’s not good for our fans.

“There will always be a secondary ticket market. There’s nothing you can do to prohibit it. As long as there is, you’ve got to ask yourself why — why is all of this value being captured by somebody else? For schools that have done it (dynamic pricing), that’s a big reason.”

Q: I’m going to tap into the former defensive back in you. There’s been a lot of debate this summer about uptempo offenses and player safety issues. What’s your view?

A: “I must say that while I’ve certainly read the views expressed, what’s been lacking here is anybody coming forward with any hard evidence. We have enough teams running very high-octane offenses in the country. Is there a higher rate of incidence of injury in their games or their opponents’?

“I’m a data guy, and until somebody offers some data, I’m pretty skeptical.”

Q: If everything had gone right, this would have been the year the Stanford-Notre Dame game would have been moved from Palo Alto, Calif., to China. Given the magnitude of what this game is shaping up to be, is it a blessing that it didn’t end up happening?

A: “I suppose given the magnitude of the game, sure. That’s a fair observation. Do I wish we still had gotten it done? Probably.

“We’re not focusing on any particular game. Whether it’s Stanford or not, we’d still like to get there.”

Q: But the prospects aren’t as promising as before?

A “Yeah, we lost a lot of momentum with Bob Bowlsby going from Stanford to being commissioner of the Big 12. We’ve got a great relationship with Stanford. We’ll look to resume those discussions, but there’s nothing happening.

Q: In going down the road earlier, did you clear any of the logistical hurdles with the Chinese government, things of that nature?

A “It was pretty preliminary. Both schools have people in the country, and we were dealing with them. Most of the discussions were internal. They hadn’t reached that level (of speaking to government officials).”

Q: After playing in the BCS National Championship Game last season, do you feel that Notre Dame football is in position to have sustained success?

“Success at that level involves so many factors in the course of a year, so I’m not sure I want to subscribe to that as the measuring stick. But do I think we have rebuilt the program to an extent where it can continue to compete with anybody nationally, year in and year out? Yes, I do.

“All of the elements of that type of success Brian (Kelly) and his staff has done a great job of doing that. I don’t think we have any facility obstacles. I don’t think we have talent obstacles. I don’t think we have cultural obstacles. So we have a program I think that will sustain success.

“Now will we have down years? Probably. It happens. But, over a period of time do I think we’ll be able to keep Notre Dame football performing at a very high level? I do.”

With Brian Kelly leading Notre Dame's football program, athletic director Jack Swarbrick has worked to keep the program in a favorable position with the NCAA's evolving future.