Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick finally put all the puzzle pieces in place to be able to announce the Irish's football schedules for the next three seasons.
Swarbrick said there were several hundred renditions of the 2014, '15 and '16 schedules before Notre Dame unveiled its future opponents at a news conference Friday. To see the Irish's future schedules, click here.
And while it was an easy process, Swarbrick called it a unique opportunity to map out the future for the Irish.
"It was a very interesting opportunity for us to really sit back and say, 'What do we want Notre Dame's football scheduling to be? What are our priorities? What are our goals?'" Swarbrick said. "In a sense, that was a fun exercise, great to engage in, think about, talk about."
Swarbrick discussed several goals he had in making the schedule, starting with maintaining a 6-5-1 model for the Irish to play six home games, five road games and a Shamrock Series game (an off-campus home game) each season.
"This is critical to meet the expectations of our fans, our community and our partners," Swarbrick said. "We have to give our fans enough opportunities to come see us play here at Notre Dame, but we also want to maintain the Shamrock Series. We can't achieve both of those ends without a 6-5-1 model, essentially a 7-5 scheduling model."
Another priority was meeting Notre Dame's commitment to the Atlantic Coast Conference, which the Irish joined as a member in all sports except football and hockey.
The Irish are required to play five ACC football teams every year, starting next season, in order to be part of the conference and part of the ACC's bowl partnership lineup.
But the ACC helped Notre Dame by letting the Irish push their game against Wake Forest from 2014 to 2015.
Notre Dame will play four ACC opponents next season (Syracuse on Sept. 27 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; North Carolina at home on Oct. 11; at Florida State on Oct. 18; and Louisville at home on Nov. 22).
The Irish will play five ACC opponents in 2015 (at Virginia on Sept. 12; Georgia Tech at home Sept. 19; at Clemson on Oct. 3; at Pittsburgh on Nov. 7; Wake Forest at home on Nov. 14; and Boston College in Fenway Park as part of the Shamrock Series on Nov. 21).
"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 also prioritized the Shamrock Series, which now includes the highlight game of playing in Fenway. I will have more on this in a separate post.
Swarbrick wanted to be able to control Notre Dame's football calendar to allow bye weeks to fall where it best fits for the players, students and fans.
The Irish have two bye weeks next season, with one coming between their Sept. 13 game against Purdue in Lucas Oil Stadium and the Sept. 27 game against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The other is between Notre Dame playing at Florida State on Oct. 18 and playing Navy at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., on Nov. 1.
Notre Dame's bye in 2015 comes after it plays host to USC on Oct. 17 and before the Irish play Temple at Lincoln Financial Services Field in Philadelphia on Oct. 31. The bye in 2016 falls between the Irish playing host to Stanford on Oct. 15 and then hosting Miami on Oct. 29.
"It has more to do with where it falls in the overall schedule than trying to say, 'We want a bye right before this team,'" Swarbrick said. "A little bit in the near term has been trying to look at a team you think you'll have, is it a team that might need a bye early because it's young.
"Generally, though, it's not about the opponent on either side of it. Fall break does play a significant role in it. We like to avoid having home games on both ends of fall break. It's tough on our students, our student fans. While we're willing to do it on one end of fall break, we've tried not to do it on both ends of fall break."
Swarbrick had to make hard decisions on which rivalries to keep every year. He settled on holding on to playing USC, Stanford and Navy every year, while turning rivalries against Big Ten teams to occasional games.
The philosophy left a Big Ten team off the Irish's 2015 schedule. It will be the first time Notre Dame doesn't play at least one Big Ten opponent since 1914.
"In preserving the rivalries, we wound up with two different categories," Swarbrick said. "One were the rivalries we wanted to maintain on an annual basis. Leading that for us was USC.
"The history of that game, the number of Heisman Trophy winners that have played in it, the number of national championships which the winner has come out of that game, the length of that rivalry, the intersectional nature of it, makes it unique for us. So that was first. You could only maintain that rivalry and meet our objectives as the scheduling requirements of the USC and Pac-12 if you paired it with another Pac-12 school. The logical partner for us was Stanford, a school that hits so many markers for us in terms of a rival.
"Then the third is Navy. Navy has everything to do with the story of the relationship between the two universities. It has little to do with football. That's what Notre Dame football does -- it serves the interest of the university."
Swarbrick's next goal was maximizing Notre Dame's geographical reach.
"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," Swarbrick said.
"The only three we won't play in during that four-year period of time, Chicago we were just in (when the Irish defeated Miami 41-3 in Soldier Field on Oct. 6, 2012) and will be in again; Miami (where Notre Dame lost the BCS championship game on Jan. 7 and travels to play at in the future as part of its deal with the ACC) 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."
As part of the extensive travel, Swarbrick said he wanted players to play in special places.
"The opponents we've scheduled help us do that, whether it's the Coliseum in Los Angeles, extraordinary venue, or taking the Shamrock Series game not merely to Boston but to Fenway Park and being the first school to play a football game there in 45 years," Swarbrick said. "We want to take our young people to special places."
Swarbrick also said strength of schedule, especially in regards to the new College Football Playoff format, had to be considered in scheduling, and that he wanted to make sure Notre Dame was playing like-minded institutions.
"Strength of schedule for us. Beyond the performance of the individual teams, also relates to getting Notre Dame to have games against all the major conferences," Swarbrick said.
"During this four-year window I'm using, '13 to '16, we'll play 15 games against ACC opponents, nine against Big Ten opponents, 10 against Pac-12 opponents, three against Big 12 opponents. We have as a scheduling priority beyond this period of time finding a way to work SEC opponents into our schedule."
Swarbrick said he wanted "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.
"I would suspect that virtually all of these are criteria that you probably anticipated. The next one you might not have, and it's the most important one to me, the one I am most proud of our achievement on, that is to play like institutions."