Feb. 6, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- They’ve obviously been deeply involved in the last month with conference and university administrative meetings and football recruiting, but I suspect Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick and Coach Doc Holliday have been otherwise occupied, too.
The Herd’s football signings Wednesday came less than 48 hours after Conference USA revealed the league’s 13 football schedules for 2015, so the latter announcement didn’t get quite the attention it might have.
But my first thought after seeing the defending C-USA champion Herd’s schedule on Monday was this:
Did Hamrick and Holliday hack into the C-USA scheduling computer program?
Could Marshall have gotten a schedule the Herd has to like more than the one that opens Sept. 5 with a Joan C. Edwards Stadium visit by Purdue – the first Big Ten team to hit River City?
I proposed the tongue-in-cheek Hamrick/Holliday nefarious notion to long-time acquaintance Alfred White, the respected C-USA senior associate commissioner and football operations director for the league.
“I don’t know anything about that,” White said to the accompaniment of his own laughter.
Hamrick’s take on the schedule has been how travel-friendly it is for fans. “You can go to 11 of 12 games without getting on an airplane,” the Herd AD said. “You can drive to every game except at Florida Atlantic, and who wouldn’t want to watch the Herd play in Boca?”
It’s a third trip to Boca Raton in three years for Holliday and Co. We all can think of worse major-college datelines to visit, a whole lot of them. Otherwise, the longest venture in the other five road games is a 370-miler to Middle Tennessee.
The five road dates besides FAU are a combined 1,298 miles – one way -- from Huntington. That’s about like driving from Marshall to UTSA.
Six home, six road … no more than two road dates in a row … No distant trips to C-USA’s four Texas members for a second straight year … Both crossover games against West Division foes – Southern Miss and North Texas – at “The Joan.”
The Herd is alone among the 13 C-USA teams without a road date at an opposite division team’s stadium.
Marshall, the northern-most member in the conference, has only one home date after Oct. 24, when the weather begins to turn. Marshall has three October home games.
And if Holliday has anything to quibble about, it would have to be the fact that the Herd’s open date doesn’t occur until the second-last weekend of the season.
Seriously, I asked White about the C-USA schedule. Yes, it is computer-generated, and for a second straight year. The process gained a degree of difficulty when UAB dropped football in December.
With Charlotte joining C-USA football, the 2015 season was supposed to have 14 members. Conference teams could have played six games within the division and two crossovers, and one of those was going to be in “rival” fashion, like the SEC uses with its 14-team setup.
Or, with 14 members, C-USA could have had an eight-team East and six-team West to cut down on team travel. It eventually didn’t matter when UAB pulled the plug on the gridiron.
“What you have with Marshall’s schedule, it’s a coincidence,” White said. “It’s certainly nothing we made the computer do. Any things like you mention (see above), they’re all just coincidences for any school.”
The veteran college athletics administrator explained that C-USA uses three scheduling models, reviews what they produce, then goes with the one “that’s most balanced.” But 2015 threw the conference what White called “some curveballs” – one of those being the UAB football exit.
“One that makes a difference this time is for the last several years, we’ve had 12 (games) over 14 weeks,” White said. “This year, the way the calendar falls, we have 12 in 13 weeks.”
That one-bye situation will come into play even more once C-USA’s telecast partners make changes to move several games to Thursdays or Fridays. Last season, the league had four Thursday conference games and two Friday dates.
“If UAB had stuck around, we’d have had the division games and then one-and-one (home-and-road) as crossovers,” White said.
There had been speculation that C-USA would just flip last season’s schedule – a 2014 home game would be a 2015 road date – and plug Charlotte into what had been UAB’s expected schedule. White said that didn’t happen.
He said that when the computer was through with the process, it had changed one foe on the Marshall schedule.
Had the Blazers stuck with football, the Herd still would have played Southern Miss at home – the Golden Eagles would have been that annual crossover “rivalry” foe. But instead of a home date against North Texas, Holliday’s team would have made a first trip to the Alamodome to meet UTSA.
Had that happened, another of the games against an East Division team would have moved to Huntington, to still give Marshall a 4-4 split.
The plan for the 2015 schedule took root prior to 2014, White said. With Charlotte coming aboard and had UAB stayed, C-USA could have played with an eight-team East and six-team West. Eventually, all eight East teams would have rolled through a “no-play” format to create some schedule balance.
Last season, the East matchups that were not played were FIU-Western Kentucky and UAB-Old Dominion-UAB. This season, those “no-plays” are Charlotte-WKU and ODU-Middle. Another option that wasn’t used was to let the computer randomly select the “no-plays.”
Yes, it’s complicated, but White said there are guidelines. C-USA, within the eight-game league schedules – tries to alternate weeks between home and road games. No team gets three straight road games, unless it involves a non-conference date, over which the school has control, and not C-USA.
For example, UTEP opens the 2015 season at Arkansas, Texas Tech and New Mexico State. Rice sandwiches a September league game at North Texas with roadies at Texas and Baylor. FIU plays four of its first five away, a stretch that includes a C-USA game at Louisiana Tech.
Another fly in the ointment is when schools play non-league games in the midst of the conference schedule, particularly in November. It makes trying to balance a league schedule more difficult. This season, after Week 5, there are six non-league games, including two in November.
“We try to discourage (scheduling non-league games late), but it happens, so we try to work with it,” White said.
As for Marshall’s schedule, the Herd will play host to FIU on Nov. 14 – the 45th anniversary of the 1970 team plane crash that took 75 lives. It’s MU’s first home game on the very special anniversary since 2009.
A Halloween trip to Charlotte – where Marshall has a significant alumni population – is the first meeting of the schools. The Herd heads to WKU for the first time since 1950 for the regular-season finale – a game I’m guessing has a great chance to move up a day to Thanksgiving Friday for TV, just as it was played at Edwards Stadium this past season.
It all adds up to an attractive schedule for the Herd as well as its fans. And, yes, I believe White when he says Marshall’s schedule was a convergence of confluences.
Still, if you’ve ever seen Hamrick and Holliday in action on one of the courses at The Greenbrier, you know they really are hackers.