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...and a SBT interview with Swarbrick

by Jay ?, San Diego, Friday, January 28, 2011, 08:06
edited by Jay, Monday, April 14, 2014, 08:19

I guess he's making the rounds.

(Also, much more substantive here than Prister was able to elicit.)


January 27. 2011 6:59AM

Tribune Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND - He high-fived Ben Hansbrough on national TV Monday night, presumably with enough care that he didn't tilt the sizzling shooting touch of the senior guard on the Notre Dame men's basketball team.

Jack Swarbrick's job, though, still entails much more than being the program's most visible fan in ND's nationally televised takedown of No. 2 Pitt.

Here's a peek into the third-year Notre Dame athletic director's world and his thoughts about a variety of subjects in it. This is the first of two parts:

Q: How close are you to releasing the 2013-2016 football schedules?

A: "We're not there yet. We have three holes left to go. We're close, though. We're getting there. Three away from being done through 2016."

Q: You've mixed in some 6-5-1 (six home games, five road games, one off-site home game) scheduling formats in 2011 and 2012, which have given you more flexibility than the 7-4-1 template you inherited. Is it going to be only 6-5-1 moving forward?

A: "Just about. We might have an occasional 7-4-1 year, but it will be because of the way some games fall. It's really going to be 6-5-1."

Q: Is the off-site home game concept something you're committed to for the foreseeable future?

A: "Yeah, if we reach any years where we can't find the right place or the right opponent, that will become a 7-5 year. But so far the two-year experiment has been very successful for different reasons.

"Both San Antonio and New York were great. New York could not have been any better. So there's every reason to keep it going."

Q: Are there any plans to get a series with a Southeastern Conference team going?

A: "Not certain it will be a series, but we're exploring the possibilities of an SEC team being one of the off-site home games in the 6-5-1 format."

Q: What are your thoughts on Texas' 24-hour Longhorn network deal for $300 million over 20 years?

A: "We've talked to them over the past few months as they worked through that. They're good friends, and they've kind of kept us posted on their thinking, not the elements of the deal.

"I think it's a great thing. I think it makes all the sense in the world for them, and it'll work. It will be very successful."

Q: Can Notre Dame do the same thing? Will Notre Dame do the same thing at some point?

A: "It's really important for us to expand our media presence. There's no question. And so I don't know what form that will take yet.

"Texas has geography going for it that Notre Dame doesn't. So you can sell that into a geographic region to cable providers, and it works well. We don't have geography in that sense, so our approach will have to be a little different. But we're very excited about exploring ways to do that.

"All of the emerging technologies are going to help us. What we have is probably the largest national following, but it's dispersed. So we're going to need robust broadband solutions and new forms of delivery of digital media, some of which don't exist yet but are clearly coming."

Q: Because Texas was able to do this, do you think at some point the school will move to be an independent?

A: "There may be more schools becoming independents, but I don't think you can infer from this anything relative to Texas. I think Texas enjoys its partnership with the Big 12 and it enjoys its relationship with the conference. Might there be more independents? Maybe, but I don't think that these two are necessarily connected."

Q: What are you hearing about the Comcast/NBC merger and what it might mean for Notre Dame?

A: "Well, it's not based on what I'm hearing. What I think you wound up with here is a media company with extraordinary assets. I'm sure they have very impressive plans on how they'll grow. I don't know what they are, but we are very fortunate that a great partner like NBC is now part of a larger enterprise with more assets.

"It gives us more things to talk about, more potential ways to deliver Notre Dame programming. I can't speak to what their plans might be, but I think it's all good for Notre Dame."

Q: Do you expect fans to see any differences in the Notre Dame football coverage because of this?

A: "I think the things you can expect initially is more related programming, more shoulder programming can find its way into an outlet. More locker room access, more practice access, more coaches analysis, because now the combination of those two will have a lot of different places they can deploy programming. So, hopefully, we'll get an opportunity to do that.

"Who knows how many channels, how many networks will be part of that family. It's conceivable that Notre Dame may be on more than one. You may get replays on one outlet. You might have video on demand for former games. I just, again, think it will be the fact that there will be a lot more mechanisms for delivery in the merged unit that will be good for us."

Q: Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds was quoted recently as saying that if Notre Dame wanted to come to the Big 12 with everything but football, they would be welcome. What's your reaction?

A: "I saw what DeLoss said. As I've said on a couple of occasions, they're one of the schools that are an important relationship for us, because he and the members of his team - Chris Plonsky, the one who took the lead in building the (Longhorn) network - have been great resources for us.

"I guess I was sort of flattered that DeLoss had that view of Notre Dame."

Q: You remain firmly committed to the Big East, though. What are your thoughts about TCU joining the Big East?

A: "I think it's spectacular. I think it's so good for the Big East on so many levels. I was a huge proponent of it, and of course (Notre Dame president) Father (John) Jenkins serves as the chair of the Big East right now. So he was in a critical position during all of that, as reflected by the fact he was down at the press conference when they announced it.

"It gives us a presence in Texas, a critical market for a host of reasons. It immediately improves the quality of football in the Big East, as well as some other sports.

"The Big East is a heck of a baseball conference. We already had a number of Big East teams playing very good baseball. Now you add the runner-up from the NCAA Tournament last year.

"I think from a media perspective, the Dallas/Fort Worth area is a phenomenal one for us. It (also) gives us another warm-weather option for early-season spring games in various sports. We already have one in South Florida, but now we have a second one in Texas.

"So I just think it was a brilliant move for the conference, our commissioner, Father Jenkins as chair - everybody did a great job in making that happen."

Q: Do you feel like, since the whole scare of the Big East being poached by the Big Ten and ultimately crumbling, that the conference is strengthening itself behind the scenes?

A: "I think the Big East is in a great position. We continue to have unquestionably the best basketball conference in the country. Football is good and getting better.

"I think there's great unity among the schools. So I think, in so many ways, the Big East is stronger now than it's ever been and a great home for Notre Dame. We're very fortunate to be a member of the Big East."

Q: There was a point where former athletic director Kevin White had committed to playing three Big East teams in football every year indefinitely from 2011 on. But as you look at the 2011 and 2012 schedules, there's two Big East matchups in 2011 and one in 2012. What happened?

A: "We're going to play Big East teams. We've got a series with Syracuse coming up. We'll always have Pitt. I think you will see, over time, we're going to be pretty much in line with Kevin's goal."

Q: One of the things fans seemed to really enjoy about the Yankee Stadium experience was the Jumbotron. What are the chances that happens at Notre Dame Stadium?

A: "I don't know. It's hard for me to assess that. But I will tell you Yankee Stadium had an impact on people's communication with me about it. I've heard from a lot of people that have said, "˜I was opposed to this, but seeing it in action there, I have a different view.'

"Whether that ever happens here, we have to have it fit into what we want our stadium to be and the tradition of the place, and so there's nothing imminent, but I was interested in how many people had their view changed by that experience, because it does give you a remarkable ability to promote the university, which is what we did very effectively there.

"It's especially effective in a night setting like that. It was a beautiful board. It was very vivid. It was more about what we did with it. We weren't running any advertising. We were promoting Notre Dame. Now I'll tell you who I heard most from was the players. They loved it."

Q: How about the Field Turf issue? There's the tradition with the natural grass here, but there are times it's been a real struggle to have a playable football field.

A: "I think there are two issues there. One is I was disappointed in our field this year. It wasn't where it needed to be and, frankly, that was without any real weather challenges.

"So we've got to make sure we get the field to a quality that makes sense. The other is, as the university considers doing more things in the stadium, we have to make sure we keep a natural grass field in the shape we want it to be, graduation being an example. That's where graduation is held now, in the stadium.

"So it's a little like Jumbotron, video boards if you will, nothing imminent. But as the use of the stadium evolves - it's like so many things about this - we've got to stay open to new ideas, but maintain the tradition of Notre Dame."

Q: The bowl options worked out wonderfully this year, taking a Pac-10 slot in the Sun Bowl. But do you feel like in this cycle or next, you'd like to have more non-BCS options?

A: "Sure, it won't happen in this cycle, they're all done, but we will always be trying to work very hard to try to create options for ourselves relative to the bowls. It's tough, much harder than it used to be, but it just means we have to work much harder at it to try to give ourselves more options."

Q: Do you see any momentum at all for a college football playoff?

A: "No. None."

Why is that, because the university presidents don't want it?

A: "That's a big part of it. It's sort of the largest part of it. For all the people who want to posit solutions, we haven't seen any that make any sense.

"It's not some sort of knee-jerk opposition to playoffs, it's that the models don't respond to the things we have to pay attention to and the goals we have for college football.

"That's why it's the way it is. People think we don't spend anytime thinking about it. We think about it all the time. But there are a host of things.

"You have to protect the value of the regular season. It's the most valuable asset in college athletics, the regular season in college football. And we can't do anything that might diminish that. It's how we support our programs.

"Secondly, I think we saw clearly this year, there's enormous value in the bowl experience. And your ability to maintain a vibrant bowl system, if you go to a playoff, is in question.

"It's not just that we got to play and have a great experience in a great city. It's the experience of going to that city. It's taking the kids out to Fort Bliss for a day. And every bowl you go to, you have experiences like that. At the Hawaii Bowl, it was going to Pearl Harbor with the team.

"And there's so much about the bowl experience which is, we think, really good for a student-athlete that we want to protect that. From the perspective of a lot of universities, the intersection with finals is a critical issue, and any playoff model will impact that.

"And then of special concern, for a lot of us, is the additional games. We have a lot of evidence mounting up that there is a long-term toll that football players experience over the course of their careers. We have to manage that effectively and be responsive to that.

"I could go on all day, but we haven't seen playoff systems that respond to those issues and the others that we're concerned about. So I think this is the best solution."

Q: If you could change one thing about college football, what would it be?

A: "I don't know that I would change it, but I think that, as an industry, we have to be really careful about overexposure.

"The NFL manages that spectacularly well. Now, they're dealing with a much smaller universe of teams, but if there are two college football games every night of the week, we're going to have a challenge.

"We're going to face the challenge we now face with basketball, where it's become a bit of a commodity from a media perspective. I hope we can, as an industry - we can't do it collectively, we have to do it individually. But I hope we're all thoughtful about that.

"The other thing, I guess, - I hope it's an industry where we continue to have really quality matchups in college football. We're building some schedules in the future that are challenging. I think it's important for all of us in college football to try to make sure we're maintaining real high-quality matchups throughout the season. It's not a change. It's just something I hope we all pay attention to."

Q: Your reflections on Brian Kelly's first season.

A: Well from my perspective, he's a guy who, I've said many times, fit our criteria better than anybody else who we considered or talked to.

Has really met - and in many instances exceeded - my expectations of his fit and of his performance. He's just done a great job. He's been a great leader of the program, a great coach to our student-athletes, a great member of the university.

"I'm very excited about the future."

Staff writer Eric Hansen: 574-235-6470

swarbrick, field


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