When the news first broke about Notre Dame playing Western Michigan, I wasn’t too upset. It wasn’t officially announced by Notre Dame, yet, so we hadn’t had a chance to hear from Jack Swarbrick on the matter. I figured there were many mitigating circumstances around the situation.
But then Jack Swarbrick did discuss the issue, and now I’m not happy.
We had a number of teams working very hard to try to move other games, to get their conference to make concessions in the conference schedule, do whatever. The one that was able to get it all done and get it done with the least complications was Western Michigan.
On its face, that’s a fairly benign statement. But even a moment’s thought causes a great deal of frustration. The quotation means that Western Michigan was “first” to have all their ducks in a row, and Swarbrick just jumped at the chance to fill the hole in the schedule. The quotation also means that Swarbrick didn’t understand what his “nuclear option” was. Western Michigan was his Nuclear Option. Western Michigan was what should have happened had all else failed. We don’t know what other teams among the “number” were “working very hard” to get on ND’s schedule, but when WMU raised their hand and said, “Ooh! Ooh! Oooh,” Swarbrick should have been saying, “Hey. That’s great. We’ll take it into consideration,” and then just kept on waiting for the other teams among that number. By Swarbrick’s own claim, he had options. He just didn’t have the patience, the cool, or the willingness to play to his power position to take advantage of them.
There is hope. There’s a real hope, to which I’ll cling to until the end of the year. At that point, the future schedules for 2011 and 2012 should be finalized. Perhaps this disaster is just a one-time thing, and Jack will resuscitate our faith in him with strong, historically relevant opponents on those schedules. But if Charlie Weis is in desperate search of a “Signature Win,” Jack Swarbrick is now in desperate need of a “Signature Opponent” or two. Or three. The 2010 schedule now features Utah, Tulsa, and Western Michigan all within a 30 day stretch of the calendar. While we fully acknowledge that Utah has had a fine recent history, and Tulsa can even look competent on the field of play, Jack Swarbrick is trying to pull a fast one when he says…
“It reflects a not very sophisticated view of what’s going on out there,” Swarbrick said of any backlash. “Utah is going to be in a BCS bowl this year, in all likelihood. Utah had a number of years where it was in national championship contention and is having another very good year. Two years ago Tulsa had a great year and in a lot of ways is one of the more dangerous teams in country.
Swarbrick either doesn’t want to admit or doesn’t fully understand that in “today’s landscape,” it’s a near craps shoot as to which teams will be good 1 or 2 years from now, so rather than throw darts at a list of the 120 D1 programs in the land to find an opponent who might be decent relative to decades of historical futility, it’s a far finer plan to identify the traditionally solid programs and get them on the schedule. We’re not asking for “top 10” competition in place of WMU, but perhaps a program that’s made it into the top-25 several times in the last decade would be a good qualification.
There is one other hope to which we’re clinging: That Jack Swarbrick knows all this and just doesn’t feel like now is the time to admit that the WMU game reflects an abject failure on his part. Yes, he was put in a difficult position due to the previous AD and some miscommunication with other programs, and yes it was a difficult challenge, but it’s a challenge he’s failed no matter the spin. We can only hope that in private, off the record, he’s frustrated by this failure, but in public he’s bound by social constraints from proclaiming that the program that just filled a hole on his schedule that desperately needed filling was the absolute worst result he could have achieved short of not filling that hole at all.