For as long as I’ve been around this corner of the internet, Syracuse Orange football scheduling has been a bit of an issue. Either we don’t get out ahead of future schedules, line up games that are too difficult or regrettably pursue both of those options at once.
It’s been a source of frustration for myself and other fans, but one that was recently addressed a bit. The Orange lined up future dates with Western Michigan and Liberty, completing schedules through 2019. This is progress, and as a result, I’ve stepped off of my soapbox (hopefully for good).
But through all of those years of rancor before, I wondered what was really going on in the athletic department. How were potential opponents determined? Who handled the majority of the lifting in terms of getting dates on the calendar? Which members of the department set the agenda/level of difficulty?
Luckily, Syracuse.com’s Nate Mink had a chance to sit down with athletic director John Wildhack and senior deputy AD Herman Frazier to learn a bit more about the process. It’s a lengthy read, but I’ve isolated a few key sections below.
“(Wildhack’s scheduling philosophy) is the main framework Frazier works off when beginning scheduling negotiations. Some schools on the list come from a private subscription-based service Frazier utilizes that grants him access to which schools may or may not be available on a certain date. Not every school uses the service, so Frazier must also lean on his relationships built over decades in the industry and others' within the administration and football program.”
Couple things: Shouldn’t really need a private service when FBSchedules exists and anyone (self included) can keep a spreadsheet of all of this info. However, I did learn that the service only costs like $5,000 per year, and it also assists with shifting dates around when needed. I’m fine with it, just please don’t tell me we’ve had this service the entire time.
But Mink also mentions that Frazier’s short list of schools he’s cool with include Rutgers, Penn State and Navy. We basically never schedule those teams.
Mink: “Given the fluidity of the head coaching position here and the administration here over the last couple years, how challenging has it been to lock in on an scheduling philosophy?”
Frazier: "To be honest with you, it evolves, so it all depends on what the head coach wants to do, what the athletics director wants to do and then we will have discussions about all of that. There are a lot of emails. There are a lot of telephone calls. The one good thing about it is we haven't been locked up too many years out, so it gave us some flexibility to make adjustments from Doug Marrone to Scott (Shafer) to Dino.”
“...one good thing about it is we haven't been locked up too many years out.”
And while no, having so many future openings has not been advantageous, it has helped us out in the current scheduling cycle, since we can pivot away from past mistakes. So in that regard, Frazier’s very much correct.
Here’s where I nearly lost my goddamn mind, however:
Mink: “Can you explain why the LSU series was scheduled at that time? In my mind, you were coming off the Texas Bowl win. Maybe you felt the program would've been in a position to be a little bit more competitive in this particular juncture.”
Frazier: “Everybody did, including the head coach (Shafer) at the time. When you look at the LSU game that was scheduled, not only did we look at that game for what it was going to do for our program and knowing there was going to be a year in between the follow-up game. The other thing we look at is quality of opponents at home, so therefore I think you check the box with that LSU game.”
On Wisconsin being a top-15-20 program and the thought behind that series as well:
Frazier: "Keep in mind when you schedule these games far in advance, you have no idea who is going to be in the top 25, and I believe Wisconsin, when that game was signed, they might have been top 20. They even had a coaching change or two since that time. That's a roll of the dice. At the end of the day this is an inexact science. You try to do what you think is best for your program and where it is in that particular time."
Herein lies the problem, if you’ve ever disputed it, with the way Syracuse scheduled under DOCTOR Gross and would still be scheduling today if Wildhack didn’t put a stop to it.
“Everyone” was convinced the Orange would be able to compete with LSU, but that “everyone” didn’t include anyone here, or virtually anywhere else outside the walls of the athletic department.
Frazier also chalks these games up to a dice roll -- claiming that you never know what programs will be in a few years. That sorta checks out for teams like the USF Bulls (a series Mink and Frazier also chat about), but not squads like LSU and Wisconsin, which have both been firmly entrenched in the top 25 for over a decade now.
His own boss, Wildhack, knows this. And states as much later in the piece.
"You schedule LSU, you're naturally getting a top 15 opponent. Wisconsin, even with the coaching changes, pretty consistent run they've had the past 20 years since Barry (Alvarez) got them good back in the '90s. You can project with some degree of accuracy. South Florida is an example where it's hard to project."
That’s the obvious disconnect from one to the other. Frazier’s been following orders and scheduling more manageable teams. But the world view on scheduling is still flawed. As Wildhack mentions, there are certain things you CAN bank on each year (like LSU and Wisconsin being very good). Operating under those assumptions probably helps expedite things a bit, and results in more reasonable opponents.
There’s plenty more to digest throughout the article, with interesting factoids from the old way of thinking (under Gross) and the new approach as well. So go ahead and read Mink’s great work on that.
None of this is to reopen old wounds, but rather put a period on the old era and look toward the new one. As mentioned here, Syracuse’s scheduling is finally based on making the postseason. That’s an excellent start. And hopefully all of these new filters spelled out by Frazier and Wildhack continue setting us up for future success.