Hi, it’s me, the guy who complains about Syracuse Orange scheduling all the time. Lately I’ve been covering a lot more of the “Syracuse shouldn’t play Liberty” beat, but lucky for all of us, that idea intersects with scheduling issues too.
To start, this is not another piece with the primary intent of blasting Liberty as an institution. That may play a part here, sure. More precisely though, this asks why Syracuse was ever in this position to begin with.
If you’ll recall, Syracuse announced a 2-for-1 with Liberty back in 2017, when they very much needed some future non-conference dates filled for 2019 through 2021. We don’t know the financial details of that deal though we know what they look like for state schools like Virginia (one of several ACC teams to schedule the Flames). Given what John Wildhack’s said to Syracuse.com about adding the Flames when SU did, it’s tough to tell how similar — or not — the Orange’s deal looks. But knowing what Liberty wanted out of a home opener against a P5 school, there would seem to be a good chance the terms were at least a little better (than the already better-than-average terms UVA got).
We’ll acknowledge that Syracuse needed at least one road game to start the season given Dome renovations. Still, THIS game?
Liberty basically used Syracuse to draw in the larger college football audience to its debut on the big stage. Hugh Freeze, recovering from a very serious staph infection, unnecessarily coaches the game from a hospital bed and while he did become a meme, there was a lot written about him and the Flames as a result. That attention, plus the fluff articles in the week leading up, and what was basically a local broadcast to a national audience on ESPN+ provided Liberty with a chance to appear in a much more positive and brighter light than they otherwise would have.
Did SU know they were going to be used, to some extent, there? Sure, especially once it was known the Orange were a top-25 team (something not expected at the time of scheduling). Did that mean it was any easier to be alright with it? If you went in understanding and/or disliking what Liberty’s all about, no.
Any potential exchange of money from Liberty to Syracuse is worth that exposure they received, with a crew in the booth and in the studio gushing over them like a legitimate rising power. The ranked Orange won 24-0, of course, but that wasn’t the story of the game at all if you listened to the broadcast.
The fact that Syracuse was even in position to add Liberty at all back in 2017 comes from a lack of preparedness for future schedules. Though scheduling has gotten better in terms of the strategy behind certain opponents (wins) under Wildhack, it still hasn’t kept up with the tendency of most P5 programs to line up years and years of foes in advance. Whether you agree with it or not, everyone else is securing games through the rest of the next decade. SU has a complicating factor of a Dome renovation, but that doesn’t really explain the team needing at least two more opponents in 2022 and every year from 2024 on.
It also doesn’t explain why Syracuse is so willing to go on the road to so many G5 teams in simple 1-for-1s (Liberty was a 2-for-1, but as a school brand new to FBS, getting that is basically as good a a 1-for-1). Since joining the ACC, the Orange have played at Western Michigan, UConn and USF. They’ll head to WMU again and Ohio in future years. They also played a 2-for-1 vs. Central Michigan, which is at least a little more reasonable.
Syracuse is not the only P5 school to wind up in these situations (Miami, also a private school, manages to do this to themselves as well). They’re one of the only ones that will keep having to do so, though.
When you look out at SU’s future opponents, there’s some good strategy with names like Purdue and Rutgers, but a deeper inspection shows most of the schedule gets filled out by the ACC’s Notre Dame deal (2022, 2025, 2026, 2029) and a four-game contract with Army for 2023-26. There are P5 openings in 2024, 2027 and 2028, and 17 overall from 2024 through 2029.
If those slots aren’t filled soon, you’ll probably see road dates at Liberty swing around again, and ranked or not, we’ll once again be doing them a favor by lending greater attention to help offset their home-and-homes with New Mexico State. We don’t have to do this. Hopefully the Orange have more opponents to unveil very soon. As a reminder, here’s what that could look like every year, as you remember that Syracuse hasn’t announced a new football opponent since April despite all of the gaps.