Martin Jarmond thought that securing football opponents for Ohio State would get easier. Jarmond has been an associate athletic director for three years. Two months ago, he became the point man for scheduling.
Martin Jarmond thought that securing football opponents for Ohio State would get easier.
Jarmond has been an associate athletic director for three years. Two months ago, he became the point man for scheduling.
The challenge for Jarmond and Ohio State is that the landscape of college football has changed, as has the mechanism to attain its greatest prize. Conference realignment sparked by the Big Ten's expansion has reshaped college football. Starting with the 2014 season, the national championship will be determined by a four-team playoff.
It is a different world, and Ohio State is adapting. Its nonconference schedule traditionally has consisted of a marquee opponent and a few middling programs - often from the Mid-American Conference - looking for a big paycheck and the prestige of playing Ohio State.
That is changing. The Buckeyes will still play a top-10-caliber team - Texas Christian, Oregon and Texas have been added recently for upcoming years, starting in 2018 (TCU) - but the rest of the nonconference schedule will be meatier than it has been traditionally.
"We had a conversation in the Big Ten among athletic directors that (concluded) the playoff selection process would probably place some weight on your nonconference strength of schedule," athletic director Gene Smith said. "So that's what we decided to do institutionally."
In addition to a game against an elite team, Smith said Ohio State is now trying to schedule a game each year against a top-30 program and another against a program expected to be in the top 50. A fourth home game would be a traditional "buy" game against a weaker opponent.
The upgrade is designed to give a one-loss Ohio State team a chance to qualify for a playoff. It's expected that an undefeated Big Ten team would be a lock to qualify, but a number of one-loss teams could be in contention for a spot. The selection committee would figure to view teams that sought to play tough competition more favorably than ones that didn't.
Smith's experience as a member of the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee has reinforced that thinking.
The composition of the committee and the criteria for sorting out teams remain undecided. That makes choosing opponents as much an art as science, Smith said. An elite program today might not be one later (see, California).
Smith said he met with coach Urban Meyer before the season to solicit his input. He said Meyer's list of preferred opponents was in line with his. It is Jarmond's job to do the legwork. Although Jarmond is concentrating most of his efforts on scheduling beyond 2017, the Buckeyes have only 10 games scheduled for the 2015 season.
Ohio State is open to playing some of these games on the road, but the Buckeyes need seven home games per season to fund their 36-sport athletic program.
Jarmond is finding that not everyone wants to play Ohio State, particularly in Columbus.
"You'd think if we call five schools across the country and say, 'Hey, would you like to come play at the Horseshoe?' they might jump," he said. "Not necessarily. I'm learning that not everyone wants to play here."
Even some of those intrigued by a game in Columbus are hamstrung by circumstances.
"Everything we've announced in the last couple weeks, it wasn't like you pick up the phone and say, 'Oregon, do you want to play us? Yes? OK,' " Jarmond said. "It doesn't happen that way. There are a lot of schools that … for whatever reason, wanted to make it happen but can't."
Shifting conference alignments have added to the challenge. Atlantic Coast Conference schools only recently settled on an eight-game league schedule instead of a nine-game one. Notre Dame's quasi-alignment with the ACC has forced some scheduling ripples, as well.
Jarmond said he is talking to 10 to 12 schools a week trying to find a match.
"There are a couple of schools we've called and they're saying, 'We're waiting to see what's going on with Notre Dame,' " he said. "It's a challenge because nothing is staying in place right now."
Neither Jarmond nor Smith would name any programs that Ohio State is trying to schedule, citing the sensitivity of negotiations. Jarmond said the Buckeyes hope to announce a new 2015 opponent next week.
Smith said the goal is to have not only better opponents, but also ones that, for road games, would make for an enjoyable trip for Buckeyes fans. That was part of the appeal of adding a home-and-home series against Boston College in 2020-21.
Jarmond said he's not panicking about the openings that must be filled, though finding San Diego State to replace Vanderbilt on next year's schedule might have prevented him from developing an ulcer. The Buckeyes have time to find opponents for more distant years.
Jarmond's background is in fundraising. When scheduling was added to his responsibilities, he didn't expect the challenges he's facing.
"I thought going into it that it would be easy, like, 'Oh, we could put together games. People would want to play us. We want to play them,' " Jarmond said. "But there are so many factors, it's not easy."