In some ways, the last couple weeks are a culmination of one of this site’s main missions in recent years.
The Syracuse Orange football program, long bogged down by over-ambitious (#BRAND-based) scheduling, was prioritizing exposure over winning. The thinking around facing marquee opponents was that you’d end up on national television -- but that process forgot to factor in the negative PR of losses. If you’re on national TV every week, but lose all the games, you’re known as the loser. Not the team that’s always on national TV.
College sports are all about perception. And we (Syracuse) had somehow forgotten that under DOCTOR Gross, despite an entire athletics regime based on perception. “New York’s College Team” is a marketing campaign predicated on you thinking about New York City before New York State. Facing teams like Penn State, Washington, USC, LSU, Wisconsin and the like when no one told us to was predicated on so-called halcyon days of a bygone era of Orange football.
After well over a decade, that practice is on its deathbed.
In two weeks’ time, Syracuse announced a total of five non-conference games -- three against the Liberty Flames and two more against the Western Michigan Broncos -- to fill scheduling gaps in the near-term.
Before those two, the most recent, actual (non-Notre Dame) non-conference games announced were a four-game series with Army in the middle of the 2020s.
Finally, Syracuse football’s scheduling is indicative of a program trying to make the postseason.
For years, it was just a pipe dream for the soapbox shouters of the internet like Sean, myself and a growing number of commenters and Twitter followers. Syracuse had spent so much of our time as fans either getting behind on scheduling, lining up sure-losses or both that we weren’t sure it would ever change.
In John Wildhack’s time as athletic director, the script has flipped entirely, as the program focuses in on doing right by its players, coaches and fans, rather than some strange devotion to a #BRAND it no longer possesses.
Doug Marrone could’ve won nine or 10 games in 2012 if not for poor scheduling practices. Scott Shafer could’ve very well turned all of the “potential” he was always telling everyone about into actual, on-field wins. Dino Babers, cursed with the nation’s most difficult schedule and a division that won’t do him any favors, is unlikely to see the results of second-year improvement.
But afterward? Look at the ramp that’s already building for him, by way of (finally) savvy scheduling:
2018: at Western Michigan, Wagner, Connecticut, at Notre Dame
2019: at Liberty, at Maryland, Western Michigan, Holy Cross
2020: at Wisconsin, Liberty
2021: Wisconsin, Liberty
The games against the Badgers are still glaring outliers, but with Liberty already on the schedule in 2020 and 2021 too, there’s room to fix the rest of your slate with an eye on bowl eligibility.
Given the ACC’s recent, collective climb to the height of college football, the conference schedule is unlikely to get an easier for us. Even with Babers’s high upside, we’re still in for a slog for the foreseeable future.
But by doing ourselves some favors by securing a manageable (as manageable as we can get) schedule in the near-term, you’re making it easier to win games, which makes it easier to make bowl games, which makes it easier to attract quality recruits, whiiiiiiich makes it easier to keep Babers around.
Even if the first three steps lead to Babers heading elsewhere, you’ve still set the stage for his successor. Schedules must set the stage for not just current success, but future returns as well.
It’s what we’ve been harping on for years around here. And now, finally, we’re getting to it. Syracuse isn’t completely out of the woods yet, but it’s well on its way to doing so. After an arduous, angst-filled journey, we’re getting to what feels like a conclusion — even if it’s just the beginning of the next era of this football program.