UPDATED: Notre Dame football's 2014-16 football schedules and the logic and logistics behind them

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Some of the most intriguing wrinkles in Notre Dame’s newly revealed 2014-16 football schedules Friday were the ones that required reading between the lines and, in some instances, completely off the page.

Like Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s sense of urgency in sprinkling some Southeastern Conference teams into the formula as soon as 2017, adding an extra home night game every other year to the current commitment of one a year – likely beginning in 2015, a commitment to finishing off the last four games of a six-game commitment to BYU – somehow, sometime -- and the philosophy behind why Big Ten rivalries have eroded priority in the bigger picture.

The wow factor in ND’s upcoming schedules, though, starts with a Shamrock Series game Nov. 21, 2015, at Boston’s Fenway Park against Boston College. It will be the first football game played in the iconic baseball stadium since Dec. 1, 1968, when the then-Boston Patriots played there.

“We spent a lot of time mapping it, staking it,” Swarbrick said when reminded of the football fiasco at Chicago’s Wrigley Field for a game between Northwestern and Illinois in 2010 in which the teams had to share an end zone because the football field was too snug of a fit.

“The Yankees will tell you when we went there the first time, we drove them crazy,” he said referencing the 2010 game against Army in the first-ever football game in the new Yankee Stadium. “We had to outline the entire field.  We had to walk in and see it.  We weren't looking for a superimposed image of it.

“It's going to be tight. It's hard to be in a baseball stadium and not have it be difficult. But we wouldn't do it if we thought there was any risk to the safety of the players.”

The other Shamrock Series games will be Sept. 13, 2014 versus Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, officially announced Thursday, and Nov. 12 against Army at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

The Irish open the 2014 season with Rice and have two bye weeks for the second year in a row. The last game with Big Ten rival Michigan for the foreseeable future will take place Sept. 6 at Notre Dame Stadium and will have a 7:30 p.m. (EDT) kickoff.

The 2015 schedule will be the first to be completely devoid of Big Ten teams since coach Jesse Harper’s 1914 Irish played a slate of Alma, Rose Poly, Yale, South Dakota, Haskell, Army, Carlisle and Syracuse.

A commitment to play five Atlantic Coast Conference teams a year, beginning in 2014, was a major factor in the Michigan State and Purdue series becoming more intermittent and Michigan going on indefinite hiatus.

And the web of previous commitments, desire to preserve certain rivalries and a desire to maintain balance and strength of schedule wouldn’t even allow the Irish to do exactly that. Swarbrick had to move a 2014 home game with Wake Forest into 2015 to get all of the pieces to finally fit.

So the Irish will play four ACC schools in 2014, six in 2015 and five a year starting in 2016 for the foreseeable future, which to this point has been slotted through 2022.

“I would note that the complexity of this process is hard to overstate,” Swarbrick said. “We probably went through several hundred iterations of this schedule. Every time we went back to our partners at the ACC and said, ‘How about this change,’ they could not have been more accommodating.

“My thanks to the staff of the ACC and especially our partner schools in the ACC. We kept changing this thing and they kept rolling with the punches. If they hadn't been that flexible, we wouldn't have gotten where we are.”

Swarbrick said the process helped Notre Dame redefine its scheduling goals, and here’s what the ND administration came up with:

*Maintaining the 6-5-1 scheduling model of six games a year in Notre Dame Stadium, five away games and a Shamrock Series off-site home game each year.

Controlling the calendar in terms of playing only on Saturdays when it comes to home games and where to place the bye weeks strategically. Swarbrick conceded that the Irish may eventually be asked to play a Thursday night ACC road game, a league staple, sometime down the road, but none of those pop up in the 2014-16 schedules.

*Preserving certain rivalries. And there are three ND put on a pedestal above all others in terms of playing them on an annual basis. In order, they are USC, Stanford and Navy.

Maintaining a wide geographical reach.

“Fundamental to Notre Dame football,” Swarbrick said. “We play coast to coast. Jesse Harper made that decision a hundred years ago. It changed the trajectory of the football program and the university, and we're not going to stray from it.

“In the four-year period of time, from '13 to '16, the focus of what we're talking about today, we will play in nine of the 12 largest cities in the United States. The only three we won't play in during that four year period of time, Chicago we were just in (2012) and will be in again. Miami just doesn't happen to fall in the four-year period of time, but we will visit. And that leaves only Houston as a top 12 market that this schedule doesn't get us to, so we'll be looking to get to Houston.

“We'll be in nine of the 10 largest Catholic communities in the United States, consistent with this University and its mission.”

*Playing in unique venues, playing schools with similar academic missions and standing and playing teams with former Irish assistants heading them (UMass and Nevada) also were boxes Swarbrick wanted to check, all  wrapped in the context of putting ND’s best foot forward in the new postseason structure that begins next season.

“Our strength of schedule has held up very well in recent years.” Swarbrick said. “We want to continue that. We, like everyone else, believe that is of special importance going forward in the new college playoff model. It will be a factor of significance to the selection committee.

“We have as a scheduling priority beyond this period of time finding a way to work SEC opponents into our schedule. Part of the room we needed to clear in the decisions we were making relative to the schools we wouldn't be able to continue to play on a regular basis, (was) to create that future opportunity for us, to make sure that we're able to say we covered the waterfront of conferences in the way we built our schedule, so when that selection committee is evaluating us against other conferences, it has a marker to do that with.”

*Swarbrick said he’ll likely use some Shamrock Series games to reintroduce the SEC back into ND’s regular-season schedule. Although ND played SEC heavyweight Alabama in last season’s BCS National Championship Game, the Irish have not had an SEC team on its regular-season schedule since the Irish hosted Tennessee in 2005 – three years before Swarbrick succeeded Kevin White as Notre Dame’s AD.

“It's going to be tough with our home-and-home inventory,” Swarbrick said of future SEC scheduling.  “Certainly with the future home-and-home inventory, it will be a priority for us. But in the near term, maybe one form it might take is three games -- so it's home, Shamrock and away, with the away being on the back end of it.  Those are the sorts of things we're looking for.”

*Notre Dame and BYU signed a contract in 2010 to play six games total – four in South Bend and two in Provo. The two teams played each of the past two seasons at Notre Dame. The next four were to have been slotted between 2014 and 2020, a time frame that may no longerbe  realistic per Swarbrick.

“We just haven't frankly thought about it or addressed it,” he said. “We've been focused on this three-year window.”

*Notre Dame’s increasing prime time exposure on NBC bumps up by one every other year. Already ND was committed to playing one night game in South Bend and one in the Shamrock Series. Now there will be two a year in South Bend in alternating season, likely beginning in 2015.

*Next week’s Pinstripe Bowl appearance in Yankee Stadium and neutral-site games with Syracuse in 2014 and 2016 at East Rutherford, N.J. (both technically Syracuse home games) convinced Swarbrick to steer clear of another Shamrock Series game in the New York area for a while.

Saying no first to Michigan, Swarbrick said, was a function of the nature of that contract and nothing more.

“We got a lot of attention in the Michigan situation about Michigan being the first school we addressed in it,” he said. “We had a sequence for how we were going to address the schools based on the contracts, not based on our view of school A versus school B.

“ The Michigan contract, at Michigan's request, had a provision that allowed you to stop the contract from rolling over. Once we made the ACC commitment, we knew we had to stop the roll over while we figured out what we were doing.

“That was a pretty easy decision, the first one to make.  For what it's worth, we did not communicate by handing the AD a letter on the sideline. A letter on the sideline came after a phone call that said. ‘I'm going to give you a letter to commemorate this conversation.’  But be that as it may, that was easy.”

2014 SCHEDULE

Aug. 30 vs. Rice

Sept. 6 vs. Michigan

Sept. 13 vs. Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)*

Sept. 27 vs. Syracuse at MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)

Oct. 4 vs. Stanford

Oct. 11 vs. North Carolina

Oct. 18 at Florida State

Nov. 1 vs. Navy at FedEx Field (Landover, Md.)

Nov. 8 at Arizona State

Nov. 15 vs. Northwestern

Nov. 22 vs. Louisville

Nov. 29 at USC

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 vs. Texas

Sept. 12 at Virginia

Sept. 19 vs. Georgia Tech

Sept. 26 vs. Massachusetts

Oct. 3 at Clemson

Oct. 10 vs. Navy

Oct. 17 vs. USC

Oct. 31 at Temple

Nov. 7 at Pittsburgh

Nov. 14 vs, Wake Forest

Nov. 21 vs. Boston College at Fenway Park*

Nov. 28 at Stanford

2016 SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 at Texas

Sept. 10 vs. Nevada

Sept. 17 vs. Michigan State

Sept. 24 vs. Duke

Oct. 1 vs. Syracuse at MetLife Stadium

Oct. 8 at North Carolina State

Oct. 15 vs. Stanford

Oct. 29 vs. Miami

Nov. 5 vs. Navy (Location TBD)

Nov. 12 vs. Army at Alamodome (San Antonio)*

Nov. 19 vs. Virginia Tech

Nov. 26 at USC

*Shamrock Series games

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, left, and head coach Brian Kelly talks on the field before the NCAA college football game between Notre Dame and Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)