It's been a little over a week now since Jerry York and the Boston College men's hockey team brought home the school's fifth National Championship and third in the last five years. It's been a truly remarkable run for the program. I sincerely hope Frank Spaziani, Steve Donahue and Gene DeFilippo are paying close attention to the college hockey dynasty that York has built on the Heights. Both the football and men's basketball programs can learn a thing or two from Coach York.
This is part three of a five-part series examining five key takeaways that Boston College football and basketball can take from the Eagles National Championship men's hockey program. Leave your own thoughts in the comments section.
Schedule Tough, Schedule Smart
York has been a master of getting his team ready for the March-April stretch run by scheduling some of the toughest programs in the country in non-conference play. After a 27-game Hockey East schedule and two games in the Beanpot, the Eagles have a precious few games to schedule against non-conference opponents. York makes the most of these opportunities.
Just take a look at the last four years' non-Beanpot, non-conference schedules.
Ice Breaker -- Michigan State and North Dakota
at Notre Dame
Great Lakes Invitational -- Michigan and Michigan Tech
at Notre Dame
Ledyard National Bank Classic -- Colgate, Mercyhurst
at Notre Dame
Denver Cup -- St. Lawrence, Denver
Over the years, the blueprint has been remarkably similar. York has the team playing the best of the WCHA, many times on the road, Notre Dame, and an old ECAC rival, as well as placing BC in the country's premiere holiday tournaments. The annual non-conference schedule should only get infinitely more awesome starting in 2013-14 when BC and Hockey East will likely go from seven non-conference dates to as many as 14.
It's a formula that has worked well for York and the Eagles hockey program and one that, if continued, will only help to further separate BC from the rest of Hockey East given additional non-conference slots on the annual schedule.
Now I know full well that the current scheduling incentives in college hockey vs. football and basketball are vastly different. College hockey, and to a lesser extent, college basketball reward SOS while college football doesn't. And until said incentive structure changes, there will be no end to the BC vs. I-AA game on the yearly sched.
There is also a lot less flexibility in football scheduling than there is in hockey, and until Notre Dame joins Hockey East, a lot less flexibility in hockey than there is in basketball.
That doesn't mean though that Donahue and Spaz/Flip can't take something away from York's scheduling philosophy. Instead of "scheduling tough" as York tends to do, think of it instead as scheduling "smart." The non-conference portion of any schedule should be wholly consistent with the goals of the program and the recruiting philosophy of the given coach.
For York, the strategy is simple. Schedule the best teams in the nation given that BC is now one of the best programs in the country. Traveling to play games at WCHA arenas and in premier holiday tournaments helps the program gain even more exposure in those areas and winning those games helps put BC in a position to earn the NCAA Tournament's top seed at season's end.
For football, it's a bit different, but still the theory applies. Schedule the programs that you want to be compared to and beat those programs on the gridiron. Hence, making the decision of HS players a little easier. This is Pat Fitzgerald and Jim Phillips football scheduling philosophy at Northwestern and one -- I've repeatedly written -- makes total sense for a program like BC. Schedule Notre Dame. Schedule Northwestern, USC, UCLA and Vanderbilt. Forget about UMass, the rest of the MAC and Conference USA. You only have two non-conference dates to fill a season (after nine ACC games and the I-AA game). Make those games count.
There needs to be a balance for basketball, especially when you factor in the grind of an 18-game ACC schedule, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, games against Holy Cross and Providence and an exempt holiday tournament. But there are a few slots on the annual schedule where I think Donahue can make a similar impact. Get out to southern California. Find dates with teams in New York-New Jersey. Schedule fellow Jesuit programs. There's a reason for having Bryant, Dartmouth and New Hampshire on the schedule, but be sure to find time for bigger name opponents that are consistent with the recruiting pipelines you want to establish.