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Building a Program #4: Scheduling Balance

How should a new program build it’s non-conference schedule?

When New Mexico fired Bob Davie and hired Danny Gonzales, I had instant excitement.

I’m not a fan by any means, and I’ve never been to New Mexico in my life. However, I was thrilled they would most likely take recruiting more seriously, so I would be able to follow them more closely.

The next thought that occurred to me is in many ways; they are (re)building the program from scratch. Yes, the team is full of scholarship players. However, even if you haven’t been paying close attention to the team, you likely know they primarily recruited junior college players and usually didn’t start focusing on recruiting until after the season, which isn’t ideal for securing talent.

Anyway, the Lobos are rebuilding in many ways. They are committing to finding high school talent and securing talent that matches their system as well as their culture. The question then becomes, what are the important choices to make when making the first steps towards building a program from scratch?

The first installment looked at building the offense around a running back or a quarterback, while the second piece dove more into which recruits were “the right recruits” for the rebuild. Part three examined how to build a successful coaching staff. This latest edition will explore the importance of building a non-conference schedule.

For four games each season, schools have some element of control on who they play. Now Coach Gonzales won’t have a say in games over the next few years as they have already been scheduled, but the balance of non-conference games is still vital to a rebuilding program. For instance, while it is important to have a few easy wins on the schedule, it could be argued it is equally important to have what’s known as pay-day games or easy wins for better teams to receive money to finance the athletic department. Getting large sums of money can fund many things in the program, ranging from recruiting, marketing, and facility improvements. Let’s examine what the non-conference schedule looks like for New Mexico going forward.

Pay-day Games

These are the games teams are basically get paid to lose. Blue bloods and other power five schools want extra home games and warm-ups before their tougher (in theory) conference schedules. Those schools also have tons of money. The P5 schools find other schools, usually in the group of 5 or FCS, who need the money and pay them a nice sum of cash to travel, try their best, and typically lose a game. It’s not the worst arrangement.

For a rebuilding school like New Mexico, trading a likely loss for $1-2 million isn’t a bad trade-off. Getting extra money each year to play football games is very helpful for a school not known for being a traditional football power. The money is needed, and the Lobos need to play somebody, so they may as well get paid for the trouble. Plus, it’s a marquee game for the players. Not everyone gets to play USC or LSU in their college career.

Gimmie Games

On the flip side, a team can’t go through the year getting blown on every other week on the football field. Especially depending on how a team thinks they will do during the conference portion of their season. It helps to add a game or two on the schedule that will more than likely be a win or at least a more competitive game against a team they measure up well against. Now depending on the level of competition, a team may have to pay a fee to bring their opponent in, so it mustn’t offset the money they receive in pay-day games.

New Mexico needs a gimmie win or two on their schedule. They aren’t going to get it against the top P5 teams on their schedule. And for the first year or two, wins aren’t going to be easy to come by in the Mountain West. Due to this, it’s vital they have games that are more winnable to keep the team’s spirits up and keep the win column from being stuck at 0. One or two wins makes a big difference.

Rivalry Game(s)

This category was added to accommodate the annual series with New Mexico State. It’s important that. A hard-fought game against an in-state rival every year is important for a new program as well. It gives the players something to fight for. It connects them to the history and culture of the program. Even if little else goes right in the tough rebuilding seasons, a win against the rival Aggies will be meaningful and a mark of accomplishing a program goal.

Non-Conference Schedule

2020

  • New Mexico State
  • Idaho State
  • Mississippi State
  • USC

2021

  • New Mexico State
  • Houston Baptist
  • Texas A&M
  • UTEP

2022

  • New Mexico State
  • UTEP
  • LSU

2023

  • New Mexico State
  • Texas A&M
  • UMass

2024

  • New Mexico State
  • Auburn

2025

  • New Mexico State
  • UCLA

2026

  • New Mexico State
  • Oklahoma

2027

  • New Mexico State
  • Oregon State
  • Texas A&M

2028

  • New Mexico State
  • Oregon State

2029

  • New Mexico State

Looking at the schedule going forward, here’s how New Mexico’s future OOC schedule looks in terms of fitting into the three categories described above:

  • Gimmie Games: 5
  • Pay-Day Games: 11
  • Rivalry Games: 10

At this point, the New Mexico schedule is set up pretty well for the next decade or so. They play their rival New Mexico State every single year, with no end in sight. They have one or two pay-day games scheduled through 2028, which will finance the athletic department and provide some cash flow to rebuild the program off the field. The Lobos also have one to two gimmie games set up over the next four years. Of course, they will need to fill their schedule with more of those games in the latter half of the decade, but those games usually aren’t scheduled as far in advance as the other two categories. As long as New Mexico can fill those games, maybe with some FCS teams, but preferably against FBS independents or teams from the MAC or Sun-Belt conferences, they will be well on their way towards achieving scheduling balance in their out of conference games.