Wednesday, May 14, 2014

schedule for losers

We're back on the scheduling warpath, except this time I'm turning off my creative side and re-engaging the portion of my brain devoted to tearing down shitty ideas.

The trendy phrase du jour is "schedule for success."  I'll say it right up front so you don't have any illusions: I hate that dumbass euphemism and find it enormously offensive.  Euphemism: [yoo-fuh-miz-uhm] (noun); 1. the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.  The expression "thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt" in this case is probably "schedule like a pissy little weiner because we're lowering our standards."

The argument in favor of "schedule for success" (SFS from here on out, to save my typing fingers the effort) goes more or less like this:

"You need to win to build up your program, and it doesn't matter who you beat.  If you win, you go to bowl games, which gives you extra practice that is vital, perhaps even indispensible.  Recruits only care about the number of wins, and by going to bowl games again and again they will be convinced your program is on the upswing.  This is how programs like Virginia Tech, Duke, and Wake Forest have found success.  What we should be doing is scheduling as many easy games as possible so that all we have to do is win two ACC games and we'll be bowling; nobody will care whether the wins come against Idaho or Alabama." 

The goal is to never schedule a team with a pulse; one FCS team and three MAC-snacks, or some Sun Belt teams.  The more the program resembles Eastern Michigan, the better.

All of these are actual arguments used in favor of SFS.  You'll have to trust me on that.  I've done my share of attempting to argue the opposite, so I know.

Now for why the argument sucks:

-- It's based on totally false premises.  It is claimed that VT and Frank Beamer SFSed, early on Beamer's tenure, which helped them take that step toward respectability.  They never did!  Here are the combined records of VT's opponents in Beamer's first eight years:

1987: 77-50
1988: 86-41
1989: 68-56
1990: 75-47
1991: 77-49
1992: 71-51
1993: 60-62
1994: 63-61

Only one combined losing record, and that just barely.  In 1987 they played two undefeated teams (Miami and Syracuse) and three with double-digit wins (also Clemson.)  In 1988, five teams with double-digit wins.  In fact, until 1993, they never played fewer than two such teams - and remember, they were independent until 1991, and entirely in charge of their own schedule.  Multiple times they would play Florida State, Clemson, Miami, South Carolina (a perfectly good team at the time), Syracuse (ditto), NC State (also ditto), and of course, a UVA team in George Welsh's prime.  In 1991 - five years into Beamer's tenure, mind you, with plenty of time to have scheduled these after his hiring - their OOC included Oklahoma, FSU, NC State, South Carolina, and UVA.  Scheduling for success?  You're kidding, right?

As for Wake Forest and Duke, they have largely SFSed, it's true; both have played the same junky schedules for over 20 years, with absolutely no correlation to success or failure.  In the last 25 years, Wake has played Navy 11 times, Vanderbilt 12 times, Army 8 times, and a I-AA team more often than not, and their win-loss record has gone up and down independently of their quite consistent OOC schedule.  Their recruiting, on the other hand, has stayed consistent, independent of that oscillating record; they have been a near-perfect fixture at the very basement of the conference.  That Orange Bowl trip didn't seem to help matters.  The same has been true for Duke, who did not schedule their way into the ACC CG last year because you can't get there based on playing Memphis.

I will admit that Wake Forest did somewhat schedule their way into winning seasons in Jim Grobe's early years - and failed to go bowling one year despite a qualifying 6-win season.  Back then there weren't enough bowls to go around, and Wake was passed up - perhaps because their crap schedule failed to convince any bowl organizers they'd be competitive.

-- There's no proof of any of the claims.  Admittedly it is hard to quantify the value of the extra bowl practices, and I'll stipulate to the idea that they certainly can't hurt.  That said, no evidence whatsoever exists for their efficacy, either.  If the 15 practices are so great, why did we go 4-8 after going to the Peach Bowl.  If Al Groh's program benefitted so greatly from 75 extra practices (by going bowling every year from 2002-2006) why did it crash and burn so spectacularly afterwards?  You could argue that, well, the coach matters, and extra practices only help if the coach is competent, to which I reply: exactly.

There's also certainly no proof of a recruiting boost for winning games regardless of opponent.  Wake never saw one.  Duke has not seen one.  Besides, the argument supposes that recruits are stupid and don't follow football on TV or know the schedules of the teams that are recruiting them.  If for some reason they don't, the coaches are always pleased to remind them as often as it takes.

-- It's a totally unworkable idea.  Keep in mind that games are usually scheduled anywhere from three to eight years in advance.  We have Illinois lined up for 2021 and 2022.  Doing a thing like putting Oregon on the schedule the way we did last year is extremely rare.

Most of the SFS arguments are made knowing this; the point of view is rather that we should SFS that far in advance.  This despite the fact that we know nothing about how the team will look in 2018 (incidentally, that is the first year we have an open slot on the schedule, therefore the first year we can SFS without mass cancellations.)  The only known players who'll be here in 2018 are the tiny handful of 2015 commits and whichever incoming freshmen will redshirt.  There's obviously no guarantee Mike London will still be here; there's really not even any guarantee his replacement will. 

In other words, SFSers are asking for us to schedule this way not so as to be timed with the early years of a new coach - which is plainly impossible - but to schedule this way all the time.  Arguing to SFS is to go one of two ways: either cancel existing games or don't.  To cancel existing games - well, it can be done, obviously, as it was done to find room for Oregon, but to cancel the whole slate?  And start fresh in 2015?  Not only is it next to impossible to find opponents on such short notice - and that is short notice - we would look like a bunch of freestanding assholes if we wiped out so many contracts unilaterally.  It is kind of important that when our AD goes and meets with other ADs, he has a reasonably trustworthy reputation.  Believe me, it's important.

The other route is not canceling and then simply filling in junk games as we go, which is an explicit admission that we will still suck five years from now and will continue to do so for years after that.  It's a white flag the size of a decade.  It says we can absolutely expect losing records in the conference for a very long time and will need the help of crappy opponents from elsewhere in order to look presentable.  For, like, ten years.  Now that's an attitude we can be proud of!


Now, I'd be a pretty crappy writer if I spent all this time tearing down an idea and didn't offer an alternative.  Rather than "schedule for success", which is not successful and not workable and not useful, we should set a standard and try to meet it.  This doesn't mean I'm in favor of playing the Oregons and Alabamas.  That was not a good idea, last year, and getting blown off the field was probably just what we deserved - or more precisely, what Jon Oliver deserved to watch.  What the schedule should include is one in-state FCS team (if we play FCS teams, in-state ones are the only acceptable option), one MAC-snack or Sun Belt-cake, one respectable Power Five team, and then one of whatever in between.  I'm 100% in favor of scheduling teams like UCLA.  (A game which aggrieves SFSers to no end, forgetting that when we scheduled them, they weren't very good and it kind of was SFSing.  Thus illustrating in a nutshell much of the problem with SFS.  Ball State was supposed to be highly winnable.)  The 2016 schedule comes closest to what I want to see, if it had someone other than Oregon on it.  There's also Richmond, UConn, and Central Michigan.  Fine.  If UCLA was that year instead of Oregon, it'd be just exactly right.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice. Can we please have a soapbox week every year?