The Southeastern Conference recently announced its 2012 football schedule after a lengthy series of meetings and discussions. VUCommodores.com caught up with Vice Chancellor David Williams to get his insights into the increasing complicated scheduling process and what Vanderbilt officials want to accomplish with future Commodore football schedules.
You have said that the process to build the 2012 SEC schedule was difficult, how so? David Williams: One of the first steps was adding a 13th team – Texas A&M – into the SEC West. That caused some problems relating to NCAA policy with championship games, so we were working those out and knee-deep in the process when Missouri was invited and earmarked for the East. That moved the thinking from a 5-3 league rotation (five division games and three non-division games) to a 6-2 format. That led to determining which games you would jettison and which ones to keep in each school’s schedule. There was also a time when we weren’t totally sure of Missouri’s status, and once we knew for certain we moved ahead.
What are the benefits of the opening game on a Thursday night? Williams: The SEC had originally asked us to consider opening the conference season with South Carolina on a Saturday. We liked the idea but liked it even more if it could be a Thursday night game on ESPN. We had to juggle our schedule to make this work and then it appeared for a while that it might not during all the discussion, but in the end we were pleased. We think that game on a Thursday will be excellent and has added benefits such as freeing up the Labor Day weekend for our fans and giving our team two extra days of preparation for the next game.
How far into the future have we scheduled games? Williams: We have games scheduled five years out and sometimes even further. You almost have to as it’s the industry standard. We have Georgia Tech coming up in 2016 and that was originally planned many years ago. It’s been shifted three times. The Northwestern series was scheduled about 10 years ago.
Does scheduling that far in advance make for tough situations because how much can change in time? Williams: Absolutely. We put a series together with UConn just after it went to 1-A status, and by the time we actually met they were contending for the Big East championship. With conference expansion, everything scheduled 2013 and beyond may need to be changed. What if, for example, the league would decide at some point that every opening game should be against a conference opponent? That would mean nearly everyone in the league would have to shuffle its schedule. That is not on the board, but it’s an example of how things could change.
That would imply that scheduling is an on-going process, even with contracts? Williams: Unfortunately. We want to be ready for what happens. A few years ago the Mid-American Conference had a scheduling snafu, and to help straighten it out we were contracted to play Temple. Recently Temple contacted us to say it wanted to be released from the date so it could play Notre Dame, and after looking at options we decided to simply cancel the game entirely.
Did the recent SEC scheduling process give us reason to rethink our philosophy? Williams: I don’t think it caused us to rethink philosophy, but it did cause us to pay a lot more attention to scheduling. The league’s process gave us an opportunity to focus, especially as we considered the impact of two new teams in the conference.
What would seem to be an ideal schedule for Vanderbilt? Williams: We look at it in two ways. From a conference standpoint, we are going to have eight games, four at home and four on the road. Six of the eight will now be divisional. We don’t know yet if the two non-divisional opponents will become permanent. We also don’t know if we will keep traditional slots in our schedule – we have typically played Kentucky and Tennessee late in the season and Ole Miss early, for example. The athletic directors will meet in February to discuss these matters and others. I have asked Coach Franklin for his preferences regarding potential open dates, when he would like to play teams and so forth.
We would prefer to play eight home games; we’d love to play all four non-conference games at home if possible. If not all eight, then seven, which would mean three at home and one away. Once in a while we might need to play two home and two away, but looking forward we want all four non-conference games at home. All BCS teams want to play home games, so the process is not as easy as it may appear.
What are factors taken into consideration with scheduling? Williams: We give head coaches in all sports input in all of our scheduling. If we don’t have home and home deals, we look at the cost implications of games. We consider if the team would be an interesting draw for the fans; local teams might be more appealing in some cases. We like to play like-minded universities if possible and we’ve played Rice, Duke, Wake Forest and Northwestern recently. We’ve had talks with Tulane and we spoke with Stanford, but that never materialized.
I am intrigued by the Pac-12-Big 10’s announcement to dedicate one week and play each other. It’s a very strategic move - appealing to the media and public while reducing costs because there would be no guarantees paid out in this arrangement. I suspect it is an attempt to combat some of the national media dominance the SEC commands, if only for a week.