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Irish Insights

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Audio: One-on-One With Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick

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One-on-One With Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick

Last week, Insights sat down with new Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and talked about a bunch of topics ranging from facilities to his greatest achievement in Indianapolis. In a 20-minute, 1-on-1 interview with Swarbrick, he gave insight into where he came from, the one thing that possibly kept him from taking the job and where he sees Notre Dame going in the future and his role in getting the Irish athletics program there. You can also listen to audio of the conversation in this same post.

IRISH INSIGHTS: WHAT'S THE FIRST MONTH BEEN LIKE:

Jack Swarbrick: "It's very intense. It's intense, principally, from a scheduling perspective. It's not the nature of the work but the number of people you need to contact, number of things you need to get up to speed on. The time demands are the hardest part of it. The substance part of it is quite enjoyable."

II: YOUR HOURS?

JS: "I'm usually in here by 8 and leave 1, 1:15, 1:30."

II: SO SLEEPING?

JS: "About five, five-and-a-half hours. That's sort of the routine right now. You start to get through the process of getting yourself up to speed on the issues, reading the documents over the past year and you get to meet all of the key people eventually so you don't have to make all of those calls and do make those visits so yeah, I think there's probably 60-90 days of being like this and then it becomes a little more routine."

II: WHAT'S THE ROUTINE BEEN LIKE, WILL BE LIKE?

JS: "Probably, it's been fairly internal for the first 30, 40 days. I expect going forward it gets a little more external, a few more meetings, NCAA, Big East, BCS, a little more traveling with some of the other teams so there will be more of that. The good thing now is that I largely stay here. I think it'll get a little more routinized where I can block segments of my day when I'm here, saying these are for e-mail, this is telephone time so we won't have meetings during this period of time. I'm hoping to establish something close to a routine."

II: WHAT WAS THE BCS MEETING LIKE? WAS IT COMFORTABLE?

JS: "So many of the people were familiar to me. I've worked with them in one capacity or another that it felt very comfortable. There's nothing formal about those meetings. While we follow a clear agenda, there's a broad range of discussions that happen."

II: SINCE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THAT, WHAT'S YOUR FEELING REGARDING A PLAYOFF?

JS: "What I know is it's not going to change any time soon so why waste time debating it. It is what it is. There is no momentum among university presidents to change it and as long as you have a large contingent of university presidents who don't have any interest in changing it, it's not going to change. From my perception, in the media it played out that the Big Ten and Pac 10 were resistant to change and the more I get into it, the more I understand that it simply isn't true. It was broader than that. There were folks who said 'We're not going there.' You can have some celebrated cases, three undefeated teams in strong conferences to create some new momentum but absent something like that, I don't see it changing. They are in the throes, we are in the throes of the television renegotiations and those television renegotiations will probably be for an extended period of time and probably contemplate the same format."

II: IS THAT WHERE YOUR EXPERIENCE COMES INTO PLAY?

JS: "I feel comfortable in them. I don't have the substantive background of the people who have been with the BCS a long time and been through different rounds of negotiations but the broadcasters we're talking about and the concepts we're talking about are things I'm very familiar with. I feel real comfortable."

II: WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR FOOTBALL THIS YEAR, THREE YEARS OUT?

JS: "I want all my programs to get better every year towards the goal of winning championships. And I have the same answer for volleyball and baseball as I do for football because that's, you know, I'm attracted to this job because of what I think the experience of the student-athlete is. I think it can be pretty extraordinary and if that's your point of reference, every student-athlete is as important as every other student-athlete and I want to maximize their opportunity to do something good. So I want to know they are getting better and I want to know they are on the path. That's what I talk to my coaches a lot about. What do you need? What's the path to get to championship contention? Are there facilities issues? Are there admissions issues? Are there scheduling issues? What stands in your way of winning championships?"

II: WHAT'S BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE?

JS: "Um, I'm having a hard time answering this because there haven't been many. The biggest surprise would probably have to be in a very positive way the way athletics is integrated to the rest of the university here. The more common model is that it sits somewhat apart but from my inclusion in the officers and deans group to the way we manage finances in the athletic department as part of the overall university budget, there's no separate development function for athletics. It's all part of a general development function. I think that's the right model and the way it should be. Having said that, I was surprised at the level Notre Dame actually achieves that."

II: HOW CLOSE ARE YOU ON FACILITIES? HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU SPEND ON THEM?

JS: "It's probably one of the three or four things I spend most of my time on is trying to understand the facilities that are coming out of the ground and have recently been built, what still needs to be done. What are the open issues and then planning for what still has to be done. Working on the hockey solution to give that the momentum it needs to get that starting. Looking at the basketball plans, the Purcell Pavilion plans, to see if there is anything that we can tweak while we still can."

II: WHAT WOULD THOSE TWEAKS BE?

JS: "Yeah, there are a few things. There are a few things that I need to find out more about, when I look at the plans I say 'Gee, why was this decision made?' They aren't big things. They are small things relating to concessions and traffic, the movement of people inside the building, things that impact the experience, the scoreboard/videoboard system still has yet to be resolved and I feel pretty strongly about using that as an effective tool to communicate so it's stuff like that. It's not like is it going to be round and how many seats does it have?"

II: WHAT ABOUT THE HOCKEY ARENA?

JS: "We have a great hockey program and one of the very best coaches in the country. We've got to create a facility that allows them to maintain that standard of excellence. We're meeting with the architects now, the planning is under way. It's trying to get absolutely committed to a timetable, saying 'OK, this is it, this is when we're going to move' and know we have a final plan we can all sign off on and give us what we need."

II: EVERYONE I'VE SPOKEN TO IN FORT WAYNE SAYS YOU'RE AN INNOVATOR, THAT YOU SEE THINGS AND APPROACH THINGS IN WAYS OTHER PEOPLE DON'T. WHAT DO YOU SEE AT NOTRE DAME LIKE THAT?

JS: "Oh, I appreciate that my friends in Fort Wayne think I'm innovative. I want to make sure that building on the facility side, in building those facilities, while we look carefully at the core sport function, we're asking ourselves how we can maximize the use of the facility. Can it have community applications, both in the broader Notre Dame community but also in the greater geographic community. Can we program it effectively to use it as an outreach tool for the university? How can you design it so it can have multi-function purpose when it's not being used for the sport application? That's my orientation on the facility side. On the scheduling side, I just want to make sure that we have a philosophy for scheduling, a way to approach scheduling that's not one-off, that's not 'How do we fill this hole in 2013?' What's our philosophy for building a football, basketball schedule? What are our goals and then you get pretty clear about those and get back into what the scheduling options are."

II: WHAT IS YOUR FOOTBALL SCHEDULING PHILOSOPHY?

JS: "Well, I embrace the 7-4-1 concept and I embrace it because I very much like the notion of using the off-site game to promote Notre Dame. This isn't just about playing a football game somewhere else. This is about bringing Notre Dame to a marketplace for a few days. Social service projects, educational seminars, all of that, religious functions. I want to make sure as we build that off-site element into our schedule, we're getting, we're spanning a lot of geography, scheduling attractive games. There's that part of it. The other part of it is to find a way to maximize the number of home games. It's great for the student-athletes, it's great for the teams, it's great for the fans. We're not alone in that. Everyone's trying to do it. That's the challenge, with everyone trying to do it how do you find enough opponents? You can't fill that schedule with home-and-homes. It doesn't work. The math doesn't work. So you have to try and find, forge partnerships, try to find people who will come in and play, be attractive opponents. And then I want to be really mindful of the tradition and history of the place. We have very important rivalries that are important to college football, important to Notre Dame. You want to protect those."

II: ARE THE MORE ATTRACTIVE GAMES MORE DIFFICULT TO DO BECAUSE OF TV CONTRACTS? LIKE YOU CAN'T PLAY ALABAMA IN ATLANTA ON NBC.

JS: "Conference dynamics and conference broadcast agreements are the biggest factors in scheduling those games. But it's all a negotiation. We all start by understanding what the rules are and then you try and find ways to make it work. I think there are a lot of people who are interested in joining us in those games who would like to play and will join together to try and figure out solutions. Can we reciprocate by, if they'll play one of these off-site games, can we play a game under their broadcast agreement, in their stadium. How can you make this work? But you're right, that's what complicates it."

II: SO YOU HAVE LOOKED AT A THREE-GAME SERIES?

JS: "That's one approach to it. Can you do that sort of thing."

II: HAVE YOU HAD INTEREST TO DO THAT MODEL?

JS: "I haven't had enough of those conversations myself. My staff reports inquiries from schools but I haven't done enough of them myself yet to evaluate whether it's a lot or a little."

II: EVEN THOUGH COACHES HANDLE MUCH OF IT, WHAT IS YOUR BASKETBALL SCHEDULING PHILOSOPHY?

JS: "For example, there are really important recruiting markets that you want to try and get into. It's good to have your team showcased in those markets so that becomes a factor. Our basketball teams play in a very tough conference so, for example, unlike a lot of programs in the country I don't worry about the RPI. That'll take care of the RPI so we have a little more flexibility. In the basketball scheduling you build it around what is the exempt tournament and that's Maui this year and that's extraordinary competition in Maui. Our first game, IU's down a little bit this year but our next two games will be tough opponents, certainly, when you look at the bracketing. And you've got Ohio State in Indianapolis so you have the building blocks of some really key, great non-conference games so can you use some of the other non-conference games to play sister schools, play some schools with some tradition and you build it up that way."

II: IS THE GAME IN INDIANAPOLIS MORE SPECIAL FOR YOU?

JS: "Yes. Absolutely. I think that city now has the two finest major sports facilities in America. I continue to think Conseco Fieldhouse is the best basketball arena in the country and Lucas Oil Stadium is incredibly special and I take great pride in the small role that I played in both of those so any opportunity to go down and play there is good. From a basketball perspective, it's a really important recruiting market. That market has turned out a remarkable amount of talent the past three years. There's almost been nothing like it with (Greg) Oden and (Mike) Conley and (Eric) Gordon and (Josh) McRoberts just from a draft perspective and that's going to continue."

II: WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT?

JS: "It's the legacy stuff. I love the victories. I love getting the Super Bowl there (in Indianapolis). I love getting the NCAA. From a business perspective, it's the NCAA relocation. The NCAA is such an extraordinary corporate partner for the community. It's a lot of jobs. It was the catalyst for the development for the White River State Park, which was huge for our downtown. They do all kind of things in the community to help. They have enormous economic impact but the real value for me was always the fact that university chancellors and presidents would visit Indianapolis on a regular basis. That was always the home run in that deal because that's what you want. You want those people coming and hopefully drawing a favorable impression of your community so that they take that back and share that with deans and professors and students. Increasingly in America, university presidents are incredible influence shapers so having that audience come to us regularly. On so many fronts, the last thing was the most important for me because the Super Bowl is the biggest thing we can ever do. It's, Indianapolis will not host the Olympics despite some people's belief that we should pursue it. That's the biggest sporting event we will ever host and to get it, to secure it, was huge. But the reason it's so meaningful for me is the program we built into it. When I say we, I mean Mark Myles, the chair of that effort, an incredibly talented guy who was the head of the men's tennis tour for 15 years and I developed a concept for using the Super Bowl to try and really change the near east side in Indianapolis. We said 'OK, we're going to use these three-and-a-half years and take a plan that already exists to renovate these neighborhoods and we're going to use the Super Bowl as leverage to get it done.' And I will watch that with enormous interest. That may be the only thing that made it hard to leave and go to this job, to not be a direct part of watching that happen."

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