Jack Swarbrick on scheduling, JumboTrons and transfers in Q&A Part 2

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Editor’s Note: As Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick approaches his seventh anniversary on the job later this summer, we caught up with him to get his thoughts on a variety of pressing and provocative topics.

Here’s Part 2 of 2:

Q: When you heard the post-selection comments for the first College Football Playoff and how important that 13th game appeared to be, what went through your mind?

A: “It’s not about a 13th game being important. It’s about the nature of the 13th game. The game has significance because of who you’re playing. And that’s true, whether the game is the first game of the season or the 13th game of the season.

“The advantage of a conference championship game is that you’re going to be playing a very good opponent in your conference. Ohio State got a lot of credit for beating a very good Wisconsin team soundly.

“So none of that comes as a surprise. It’s an assured high-quality game. So it’s much less for me about the number. I don’t think there’s magic in the number. Rather you know that game’s going to be a good one.”

Q: What can you do to put Notre Dame on the same footing?

A: “I’ve gotten a lot of very creative ideas sent my way, none of which are viable. You can’t, is the answer. But there simply aren’t enough data points here to know how this is going to work over time.

“In this year, in the middle of the fourth quarter, Georgia Tech was driving for the go-ahead score (truncated by a failed fourth-and-five conversion near midfield) in the ACC Championship game against Florida State. If Georgia Tech wins that game, TCU is getting into the playoff and might have been disadvantaged had it played a conference championship game of its own and lost.

“In that case, one upset in a conference championship game, TCU probably would have been in a better position. So I think you’ve got to be really careful about taking one year’s worth of experience and extrapolating too much from it.”

Q: I would imagine expanding the playoff to eight teams would mitigate the effects of having a conference championship game versus not having one. How probable do you think the move to an eight-team playoff might be before the original 12-year commitment to four teams runs its course?

A: “We very much intentionally designed it to keep it at four, keep it from moving to eight for all the reasons that were articulated. So my instinct is it’s going to stay at four.

“Now if you get enough years where there’s a high degree of controversy, I’m sure it will create some angst and some momentum, but it’s impossible for me to predict whether it would be sufficient to produce a change.”

Q: Did the playoff selection in this first cycle tell you anything about future scheduling, give you any new insights?

A: “No. I think we have to be able to make a case, at the end of the year, that our schedule is as challenging as anyone in the country. We have to build our schedule with an eye toward that. And we also have to make sure it has sufficient diversity, that we’ve got markers against various conferences.

“But neither of those are new to me. That was my view (going in). The problem we face more than anything is that the scheduling model is extended so far out, it’s very hard — you just don’t know. You can make assumptions that traditional powers are going to remain traditional powers. But everybody has a down year or two.

“You may find yourself facing someone you thought was going to be a title contender who’s having a down couple of years. We’re scheduling out a decade or more, so you can’t control that.”

Q: Michigan has had some turnover in their coaching staff and administration. Is there any chance Michigan comes back into play, particularly between now and the end of this decade?

A: “I have no doubt that Notre Dame and Michigan will play in football again in the future. It’s good for each institution. It’s good for college football. The complexity of getting it done is not insignificant, but it will get done.

“We’re scheduling so far out. Big Ten teams have fewer (non-league) games to schedule. It’s very complex. We have commitments out to at least 2025 right now. I think we have one in 2027, but at least to ‘25.

“Those are the easy ones to schedule, because I know I’m not going to be here. Again I have no doubt it will happen, but it’s not like it used to be in terms of being able to turn on a dime and get it done.”

Q: As cost of attendance becomes a reality, do you have an idea about what the number will look like for Notre Dame for football?

A: “Cost of attendance is so complex that it almost defies discussion. People are fixated on it as a stand-alone element. It’s never a stand-alone element.

“Cost of attendance is impacted by some of the other things that you provide. Some schools provide fewer meals in a meal plan. And because they do, they have higher cost of attendance, because you have to make up that differential.

“So it’s all interrelated. I get the focus on cost of attendance, both because of the legislation and because there’s a cash element to it in some people’s mind, but it’s a real mistake to view it in isolation. It’s got a lot of moving parts.”

Q: Is travel going to be part of this?

A: “Travel is part of cost of attendance. The federal government says what the elements of cost of attendance are, and travel is part of it — not for parents. That’s not part of the equation.

“Student-athlete travel is, but that’s not new.”

Q: Is there going to be a boost to that?

A: “Remember the cost of attendance is a federally monitored element. It has nothing to do with athletics. It exists for all schools and all students. The department of education sets the standards for it, and our financial aid office administers it.

“I’m not aware of any changes to the federal regulations regarding this. It’s always had transportation. It’s always had the elements it’s had in it.”

Q: Is there some concern on your part whether there’s uniformity and fairness from one school to the next?

A: “I certainly understand the concern, but it’s also the very thing that keeps getting us in trouble as an athletic association, when we try to legislate to make everything the same, and so there’s work to be done on it to be sure.

“But I think it will be hard to substitute for it some flat fee that’s the same for everybody. Again my own view is we ought to be much more focused on the disclosure elements of what all the benefits are that you’re getting, so that cost of attendance isn’t evaluated in isolation.

Q: Are you about where you thought you’d be with the Campus Crossroads project?

A: “By all reports, yes. Now that it’s moved from concept to steel, I’m less directly engaged, but the reports I get is it’s on time and going well.”

Q: I don’t know that there’s ever been a time in the last four years or so when I’ve interviewed you and the word JumboTron didn’t come into play. Any thoughts on the reality, the possibility that that will become part of the Campus Crossroads project?

A: “There is still work to be done with regard to those elements. As I’ve said to you before, I’m quite certain that we’re going to respond to what our fans need in terms of information. There’s not one solution to that. We’ll probably be spending as much time on Wi-Fi as we are on video board.

“What’s the experience in the concourse? Do you have video in the concourse while you’re getting your hot dog? What’s your access to Wi-Fi, so you can watch replays on your cell phone? Do you have a video board you can view from your seat in the stadium? It’s all interrelated, but I think the stadium is going to be very good at addressing those needs for our fans.”

Q: When do you think there will be a culmination of that process?

A: “It’s ongoing right now. It’s all so interrelated. We’ve just spent a lot of time in the last six months on what the concourse experience is. And we’ll continue to work on that.”

Q: The grad-school transfer exemption — you’ve had a lot a kids use it, especially since Brian Kelly’s been here. Do you feel like the rule is good for college football? Do you think it’s good for Notre Dame?

A: “It’s hard for me to see this as a priority with all the things we’ve got in front of us. Are there examples of it that I think have not served the rule well? Sure. But if a school makes a decision to have somebody come in as a graduate student, that strikes me as a school’s decision as to whether there’s an appropriate program for them, what the nature of their graduate study is.

“Certainly the rule is being used in ways that weren’t contemplated when it was adopted. But I’m not sure what the alternative to that is. I don’t want the NCAA second-guessing what a graduate program is at a university and what its merit is.

“I recognize there have been examples of it that are far afield from the original intent. But I guess none of those make me think it’s among the large number of things, as an industry, that we need to address. It doesn’t rise to the top to me.

Q: When Everett Golson was going through his process, I know some people wrote he was blocked from considering certain schools and you refuted that. But I know there’s been a policy in place about not wanting kids to transfer to teams on upcoming schedules. Do you feel like that’s a fair policy to have in place?

A: “I want to be careful not to call it a policy. We take a more individualized view to this with student-athletes, but generally speaking, yes, I think that’s a fair place to draw a line.

“Again, there are exceptions, so it’s not a hard-and-fast rule for us, but the irony of this is — in my experience here — with most student-athletes that are transferring, they don’t want to play against us.

“So I was frankly just dumbfounded by all the discussion about this in Everett’s case. It didn’t happen. He didn’t ask for anybody on our schedule. Didn’t surprise me that he wouldn’t.

“That’s the way the process works. The student-athlete identifies schools that he’d like to have the ability to talk to. And you go from there."

For Part 1, click here: http://www.ndinsider.com/football/q-a-part-notre-dame-ad-jack-swarbrick-on-irish/article_08c1d348-04b6-11e5-ac35-0310fbe1ef7b.html

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

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Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick looks on from an observation tower during Notre Dame's Blue-Gold Game on April 18 at the LaBar Practice Complex on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)