Big Game? Oct. 20. Top-5 ranked USC visiting the Farm? Before students are on campus. Once students are back? Arizona, Washington State and Oregon State. That’s it.
The 2012 football schedule is an unusual one, due to Pac-12 scheduling complications and a vote that did not go Stanford’s way.
Every year, Stanford football plays the entire Pac-12 North (Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State) as well as the California schools in the Pac-12 South (USC and UCLA). The Cardinal also plays two additional Pac-12 South teams, on a two-year round robin cycle (Arizona and Colorado last year and this year). Stanford has multi-year obligations with San Jose State, Notre Dame and Duke, which put all three on the schedule this year.
There are several factors that complicate the Pac-12’s schedule. Some years, the league has 14 weeks to complete the schedule – determined by the calendar – other years allow 15 weeks. The 2011 and 2012 seasons are both “14 week” years. With a 12-team league and a league championship game, these 14 weeks do not leave much flexibility in the schedule. The Pac-12’s new lucrative television deals, as well as playing occasional Thursday and Friday night games, further complicate the scheduling process. Many of these factors arose from the addition of Colorado and Utah to the league last year, but did not affect Stanford much in the 2011 season.
Stanford will open its 2012 campaign with three straight home games: Sept. 1 against San Jose State, Sept. 8 against Duke and Sept. 15 against USC. The USC Trojans, with star quarterback Matt Barkley returning for his senior season, have been predicted to finish as high as No. 2 in the nation for the 2012 season.
Classes for the 2012 to 2013 school year begin on Sept. 24 for undergraduates.
“As for Stanford starting with USC in week three, that’s not unusual,” wrote Pac-12 Vice President of Public Affairs Kirk Reynolds in an email to The Daily. “Stanford opened the Pac-12 season this past season in week three at Arizona and opened the 2010 schedule in week two at UCLA.”
Stanford and USC are the only Pac-12 teams to start conference play in week three. Washington will not start Pac-12 play until Sept. 27, with all other Pac-12 teams beginning on Sept. 22.
The Cardinal has a bye week Sept. 22, followed by a Thursday night game on Sept. 27at Washington to face the Huskies and quarterback Keith Price, whose 477 yard, seven TD performance in the Alamo bowl raised some early Heisman speculation.
The 2012 schedule includes four Thursday night games, described as “specialty dates for ESPN and FOX” in a Pac-12 press release. Every school that plays a Thursday night game is required to have a bye week the week before.
Stanford will then play its first home game with the student body on campus on Oct. 6 against the Arizona Wildcats and new head coach Rich Rodriguez’s offense – before heading to Notre Dame for the annual battle with the Fighting Irish on Oct. 13.
The Cardinal will then travel across the Bay to Cal on Oct. 20 for the Big Game before hosting Washington on Oct. 27, traveling to Colorado on Nov. 3, playing Oregon State on Nov. 10 and finishing its season on the road against three-time defending conference champion Oregon and UCLA, on Nov. 17 and Nov. 24, respectively.
The Big Game
First played in 1892, the Big Game is older than the Pacific Coast Conference, the earliest predecessor of the Pac-12, which was formed in 1915, and has been played 114 times – with the earliest previous date coming on Nov. 8.
Both Stanford and Cal officials expressed their disappointment with the 2012 Big Game date.
“The October 20 date for Big Game is 2012 is certainly not our first choice but the conference is governed by the will of the majority and we have a duty to respect the outcome of the vote,” said Stanford’s Director of Athletics Bob Bowlsby in a press release.
“We will work with California and the Pac-12 Office to advocate for the Big Game and all rivalry games to be scheduled toward the end of the season in future years.”
This will be only the fifth time that the Big Game has not been played in November. The game has previously been moved to the first week of December, as was the case in 2006 and 2007, to avoid conflicts. However, now that the conference has expanded to 12 teams and includes a championship game – scheduled for Nov. 30 – that is no longer possible.
“The Pac-12 Conference values the importance of our historic rivalry games and the importance of scheduling them in traditional end-of-season dates,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott in a statement. “However, with the addition of our Championship Football Game the last week of the season, and new television agreements commencing in 2012, there will be additional priorities that need to be balanced when making the schedule that will mean occasional date adjustments to rivalry games.
“In this case, we made every effort to create a schedule that would allow the Big Game to be played at the end of the season. Cal and Stanford were clear that they did not want to play the Big Game Thanksgiving week so we presented additional options to our member institutions for discussion and a vote. Ultimately the majority vote determined the schedule.”
The majority vote
According to the Pac-12, the conference considers initial input from every member school on dates they prefer, specific issues, and other requests before drafting initial schedules. Several possible schedules are then put out for discussion before they are narrowed to three finalists. The member schools then vote on the three final proposals.
The three final proposals slotted the Big Game for Oct. 20, Nov. 17 and the Friday after Thanksgiving. Both Cal and Stanford favored the Nov. 17 date and lobbied for its acceptance.
“While this version kept the Big Game on a more traditional Saturday late in the season, other dates for conference games were significantly impacted,” said a Cal press release. “In line with conference policy, the schedules were put to a vote among the 12 athletic directors, and the majority vote favored schedule A – which slots the Stanford-Cal game on Oct. 20.”
The Pac-12 would not elaborate further on the voting process. Officials from the athletic departments at Arizona State, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington declined to comment on the voting process. Officials from the athletic departments at Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.
A Stanford Athletics Department source confirmed that the other Pac-12 presidents voted in favor of the Oct. 20 date.
Officials from Stanford and Cal repeatedly pointed to the many Big Game week traditions held by both schools and their alumni to reasons why the Friday after Thanksgiving date would not work.
“There are dozens, if not hundreds, of events on both campuses that are tied to the Big Game,” Bowlsby said in an interview with the Mercury News. “With both schools on break, Thanksgiving week won’t work.”
However, the 2012 schedule will still impact many Stanford traditions.
Richard Muschell, Stanford assistant athletic director and director of ticket sales, said his office has received calls from alumni and season ticket holders about the Big Game date.
“People aren’t happy about the break in tradition for Big Game,” Muschell said. “And that’s to be expected. Hell, we weren’t happy. We weren’t happy about it either. But you kind of play with the cards you’re dealt.”
Muschell said the student section, which was about 5,000 seats this past season, will be smaller for the first three home games when students are not on campus. Muschell noted that there will be room for all students who wish to sit in the Red Zone.
“If we had our druthers, I’d have the entire [home] schedule after the students got back,” Muschell said. “The students add so much electricity to it. That’s enormous.”
The early home games, lack of an obvious “road trip” date and early Big Game could also affect the Band, according to LSJUMB Public Relations officer Brian Flamm ’13.
Flamm noted that the Band typically uses the NSO football game followed by a mid-October road trip to recruit freshmen and new members. However, there will be no game during NSO this year, and the away games between the start of classes and Thanksgiving Break are in Colorado and Washington – too far for an effective road trip, according to Flamm.
“The big disadvantage of the schedule is having Big Game so early,” Flamm wrote in an email to The Daily. “For band, Big Game is not just a game, but there is an entire week of events preceding the game… Big Game week is probably the most important week of the fall for band, and this earlier date could affect some of our traditional events.”
The early Big Game will also present unique challenges to the production of Gaieties. Gaieties usually casts during the first week of school in the fall, which allows for six to seven full weeks of rehearsal and set-building before three nights of performances leading up to the Big Game. In 2012, Gaieties will have a little over three weeks between the first day of class and the traditional first night of performances.
“Because of the earlier date of Big Game the staff and cast will have much less time during the fall quarter to produce the show,” wrote 2011 Gaieties producer Nora Martin ’12 in an email to The Daily. “Because of the scale and length of the production, our timeline for hiring the staff, writing the script, casting the show, rehearsing all the material and building the set will have to be adjusted. While no concrete decisions have been made, the show is called Big Game Gaieties and it is our priority to stay true to the 100+ year old tradition. I will be working with next year’s producer, Ram’s Head and the University administration to create an abbreviated schedule that will still allow the show to be performed during the week leading up to our game against Cal.”
The Band and Gaieties are not the only student groups affected by the 2012 football schedule. Students, alumni, season ticket holders and, most importantly, the players will all have to adjust to a different schedule this year. How will the team adjust? Tune in Sept. 1.