Little of this, little of that

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, July 3, 2014

AD John Hartwell breaks down how Troy’s football schedule comes to be

John Hartwell doesn’t wear a white lab coat; he opts for a polo shirt. His desk is covered with loose papers and Sports Business Journals not equations and chemical mixtures.

But one thing is for certain, Hartwell is a scientist and so far during his time at Troy his experiments have been a success.

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Hartwell, entering his second full school year as Troy’s athletic director, says a lot of things go in to creating a football schedule in NCAA Football Bowl Sub-Division.

“We are looking for what is in the best interest for Troy,” Hartwell said. “We have found a system that we like to base our upcoming schedules on. We want to have that sixth home game every year for a variety of reasons, but that isn’t always the case. We like what we have been able to do, but will make changes if we need to.”

Troy will have only five home games in 2015, but Hartwell said that would not be the status quo going forward.

“2015 is a bit of an anomaly,” Hartwell said. “We don’t get a sixth home game, because we had to satisfy the back end of a the 2-for-1 deal with Mississippi State. We are back to five home games in ’15, but I anticipate that being our last year where we don’t have six home games.

When Troy first entered FBS, the upper echelon of college football in the United States, the Trojans were often relegated to five, and sometimes only four, home games a year. Troy would play several “money games” against SEC, Big XVII, ACC and Big Ten teams early in the season and grab a handful of conference game late in the season.

As Troy has grown, Hartwell, and former Troy AD Steve Dennis, have been able to draw bigger, more established programs to the Trojans’ small corner of southeast Alabama. Missouri, Oklahoma State, Marshall and Mississippi State have all traveled to Veterans Memorial Stadium in recent year, and more are coming in the future.

Troy has deals signed to bring the defending ACC Coastal Division Champion Duke to Troy in 2014. Perennial national contender Boise State will make the cross-country trek to Troy in 2018.

“We will have four Sun Belt games at home on our future schedules,” Hartwell said. “With the other two games, we plan on to continue to bring in one FCS opponent and pay them. That should, on paper, be a little easier opponent. We also want to have one quality non-conference opponent to make our home schedule attractive. With Duke coming, Boise coming and NC State coming, we feel that combining them with our Sun Belt slate makes our home schedules very attractive.”

Over the last several seasons, more and more traditional powers have begun scheduling home-and-home series with “mid-major” teams.

Mississippi State traveled to Memphis a few years back, Texas A&M went to Louisiana Tech in 2012 and North Carolina recently visited East Carolina.

Hartwell said the shift to more national power teams hitting the road all boils down to dollars and cents.

“A lot of it deals with economics,” Hartwell said. “If you have a $100 million budget and 100,000 seat stadium, you really don’t have to go on the road for a non-conference game. You can pay a million dollars-plus to two teams and let them be your non-conference schedule. But I think the examples of NC State, Boise and Duke, that don’t have the huge stadiums and the unlimited budgets, that’s the tier I feel we have the best opportunity to have a series with.”

While Hartwell has the immediate future of Troy football all sewn up, he did mention there are spot open future schedules in case one of two certain schools decide to return his call.

Alabama is currently in the middle of a well-publicized search to fill out its 2015 schedule. The Crimson Tide lack one spot on the slate, and are having quite a difficult finding a suitor.

Alabama athletic director Bill Battle went on record in May saying the Tide “would take anybody,” to complete its 2015 schedule.

On second thought…maybe not anybody.

Hartwell said Troy made overtures to Alabama before signing a home-and-home deal with North Carolina State to lock up the Trojans’ 2015 schedule.

“Before we locked in for ‘15, we certainly had an opening and we let it be known that we had an opening,” Hartwell said. “We never got an return phone call from Tuscaloosa saying they were interested. That being said, we have openings in the future and invite the opportunity for us to either go to Tuscaloosa or Auburn and play.”

The schedule is full for the next few years, but Troy has feelers out as far in the future as 2022. Hartwell wants to make sure a proposed agreement is in the best interest of Troy before inking any sort of binding agreement.

“If you lock yourselves in to an agreement too much past five to seven years down the road, you set yourself up to miss some opportunities that come available in between,” Hartwell said. “I feel it is prudent to have a little flexibility in the schedule.”

Another issue Hartwell takes in to consideration when making schedule agreements is the future.

He learned that lesson the hard way during his time as an associate athletic director at Ole Miss.

“It is so hard to have a crystal ball eight years or a decade out,” said Hartwell. “You can’t really say what will be the condition of our program and what will be the status of the program we are playing. At Ole Miss, I was involved in scheduling Wyoming, Missouri and Wake Forest. We thought we would win the game at home and then have a tremendous shot to win the game on the road. But all those programs got better got quite a bit better over the time it took from scheduling to when the game was played. If you get too far out there, it becomes a roll of the dice”

Hartwell is usually at the Tine Davis Fieldhouse by 7 a.m. and after a quick morning workout he begins another day of growing Troy athletics.

“I want to win championships and sell more season tickets,” Hartwell said. “Those are just two of the positive things we are trying to do. We will take care of both.”