Scheduling Homecoming: It’s not done that way anymore

Your Homecoming opponent is far more likely to be determined by the conference office or alumni affairs than the football coach or AD. file photo by Pat Coleman

There are a couple of times a year when people get all riled up about Homecoming — one when the schedules come out and you find out whom you have scheduled for Homecoming and another when September or October rolls around and you see who has scheduled you for Homecoming.

Often, I see people say, “Why would they schedule THEM for Homecoming?” This misses some basic changes in how Homecoming games are scheduled.

At some schools, the process shifted years ago. Once upon a time, in fact, the coach did indeed have a great deal of say, if not the only say, as to who came to campus for Homecoming. Sure, you had to make some allowances for home-and-home series in conference games, but coaches or athletic directors (often the same people) made that decision.

But Homecoming isn’t run by the athletic department. Homecoming is a massive effort involving multiple departments of a college or university campus. The alumni office, campus life, the presidents’ office, development, athletics and probably others I’m not thinking of all have a stake in scheduling Homecoming. It’s primarily an alumni event, with a football game bolted onto it, for schools that have football.

And scheduling is not entirely in the hands of a coach or AD anymore. Essentially every conference has a pre-determined schedule for conference games, generally determined years in advance. Sometimes it rotates, sometimes not. (I mean, when was the last time you saw Bridgewater and Hampden-Sydney play football in November?) But for a school in a conference, that means generally anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent of the schedule is out of your hands.

So it’s not like Bo Schembechler or Woody Hayes picking up the phone and figuring out when they’re going to host Northwestern. (The one in Illinois.) Nowadays, at a large number of schools, this is far more likely how Homecoming is scheduled:

The conference schedule comes out, likely a few years in advance. The alumni office calls the athletic department sometime after that and says, “We’re looking at Homecoming for the first or second weekend in October for 2015. Do you have a home game for either of those days?”

Hopefully the answer is yes. If they have a home game scheduled for both of those days, then you might have some wiggle room to choose. And you might be able to influence the Homecoming game if it’s a non-conference game, but even in that case, sometimes the schedules are set before Homecoming is.

So you could be like Catholic, which has Homecoming scheduled for this weekend, before the ODAC schedule starts, and be able to have Anna Maria (5-27 in past 32 games) in town for the occasion. Or you could be Allegheny, and have nine conference games, and be forced to have Wabash at your Homecoming. But regardless, it’s rare to have a hand-picked opponent line up with the Homecoming date.