The perils of scheduling too far ahead

LSU and Oklahoma have scheduled a home-and-home series for 2027 and 2028 -- that's 12 years from now. The freshmen who will play in those games haven't even exhausted their elementary school eligibility yet.

"I'll be long retired by then," quipped LSU athletic director Joe Alleva.

Even in the era of the College Football Playoff, when strength of schedule is a critical component of the selection committee's evaluation process, athletic directors continue to schedule so far in advance that there's no possible way of knowing how good those opponents will be, let alone who will be coaching them.

Here's the irony: They don't seem to like it.

"We all need to get into a room and have a pinky swear that we're not going to do this," said Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich.

"I don't like it at all," said Alleva. "I wish we could only go three or four years, that would be fine with me, but we're kind of stuck in a rut."

"I wish that we could get more into that two- to three-year range," said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.

"We all hope to get there," said Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs.

It doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon. Oklahoma and Nebraska are playing a home-and-home in 2021 and 2022. Michigan and Texas have a series lined up for 2024 and 2027. Wisconsin goes to Hawaii in 2021. Texas A&M and Notre Dame are playing in 2024 and 2025.

Will Jim Harbaugh still be at Michigan in nine years? Will Charlie Strong have Texas at the top again? Hirings, firings, transfers -- anything that happens to those programs between now and then has no bearing on their playoff résumés until game day.

The College Football Playoff selection committee made it clear this past season that it has no sympathy for a weak strength of schedule - even if the opponent was a conference champion at the time the game was booked.

"The committee evaluates teams based on what they do on the field," said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff. "It's about who you play, not who you tried to play."

See Exhibit A: Marshall.

The Thundering Herd tried to play Louisville last season but had to schedule FCS Rhode Island instead because Louisville joined the ACC. Athletic director Mike Hamrick said he also scheduled Miami of Ohio and Ohio about four years ago, when those programs were at the top of the MAC. Last year? Miami (Ohio) was 2-10.

"Everybody was critical of our schedule, and I said, I'm not making excuses, but that schedule was done four or five years ago, before anybody ever dreamed there would be a College Football Playoff," Hamrick said. "... So all of a sudden I'm sitting here going, 'Oh no,' Ohio and Miami have gone in the tank, Louisville moved its game, and I couldn't find anybody but an FCS team, Rhode Island, and all of a sudden our kids are being penalized for decisions that were made before they even came to campus."

The biggest reasons athletic directors cite for scheduling so far in advance are the limited number of nonconference games in a season and a simple fear of being left without an opponent or paying a hefty price for an FCS opponent.

Alleva said schools are booked so far ahead it's nearly impossible to break the cycle now. The solution? Schedule brand-name programs that have been historically good from good leagues and "you just hope it works out."

"We get kind of scared," he said. "I've seen some athletic directors that are scrambling to find games, and you don't want to be scrambling one or two or three years away to find a game and then you end up paying a fortune to buy somebody to play you. It's a bad scenario if you don't have those games booked, so I think we're all taking the safe route by booking in advance so we don't have to worry about scrambling in the end."

It's a completely different scheduling model than in college basketball, where the very same athletic directors are scheduling games about two years out. What's done in hoops, though, is far more conducive to college football's new postseason.

"We only schedule basketball games one or two years out, but in basketball, things can change so quickly because kids leave and basketball programs can go up and down really quickly," said Alleva, who is also on the NCAA men's basketball committee. "Hopefully in football, there's a little more stability, but who knows what teams are going to be like in 2027 and 2028?"

Auburn's Jacobs said conference expansion made scheduling even more difficult. Adding new league members meant adding more conference games -- and paying a half a million dollars to back out of old contracts.

Plus, there's some simple math involved.

"It has more to do with the limited number of games and the flexibility," Jacobs said. "We only have Saturdays. In basketball, you can have a midweek game. There's always more opportunities to move those teams if you don't reach your cap. In football, with 12 games, you reach your cap so quickly that scheduling way out there is a difficult thing to do. The landscape keeps changing."

Thompson said he wishes football could have more of a basketball mindset when it comes to scheduling.

"I understand why you can't do it," he said. "There are some schedules that are made now for next August, September, October, but not many. If somebody drops you, or a coach comes in and says adamantly, 'I am not going to play those people,' etc., but I wish we could get more into a basketball mindset where it's a year, year and a half out. I don't know, maybe we can someday."

They should consider it -- in about 12 years.