BOGACZYK: Hamrick Wants Herd Fans to See Big Scheduling Picture
The Word on the Herd-June 30, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Mike Hamrick is baffled, and to be honest, disappointed.
Hamrick, Marshall’s veteran director of athletics, has heard little but backlash from much of the Herd fan base in the aftermath of last week’s announcement of a signed home-and-home football series with Appalachian State.
He said the notion that Marshall would work a home-and-home deal (for the 2021 and 2022 seasons) with a program that isn’t competitive isn’t fair to his alma mater and a football program in which he once played -- much less Appalachian State.
Hamrick said the disgruntlement is as misguided as the notion expressed by some Herd fans … that ASU is a Southern Conference program, “so why would we play a home-and-home with someone below us (in the FCS)?”
“We can’t play NC State every game; we can’t play Pitt every game; we can’t play Louisville every game,” Hamrick said. “You’ve got to play somebody. What’s wrong with playing Appalachian State? Maybe we spoiled (Herd fans) by getting NC State, Louisville, Purdue, Pitt, Navy and East Carolina for home-and-homes before this.
“Appalachian State joined the Sun Belt (Conference) two years ago. It’s a good program at a school that’s invested in football. Appalachian State has had only two losing seasons in the last 30. Appalachian won three straight FCS national championships (2005-07) and has moved up.
“Appalachian and Georgia Southern are the best two programs in the Sun Belt, and they both used to be in the Southern Conference. And when we played Appalachian State when we were both in the Southern Conference, they did pretty well against us, right (a 14-7 record).”
Hamrick, heading into his seventh year as the Marshall AD, said the more Coach Doc Holliday’s program wins, the degree of difficulty in non-conference scheduling will increase. And with the Herd posting 10-4 and 13-1 records the last two seasons – capped by two bowl victories and a final national ranking in 2014 – that’s the case.
“We’ve contacted the top teams in the Group of Five conferences about home-and-homes,” Hamrick said. “Mountain West, American, Sun Belt … We already have games against MAC schools on the schedule.”
Hamrick said he and David Steele – the Marshall associate AD for administration and business who helps oversee the football program – spend “a good number of hours every week” on scheduling.
“We’ve had some back-and-forth discussions with a few more Power 5 conference teams about home-and-homes,” the Herd AD said. ‘The problem with a lot is that people don’t want to play us. We’re good. Some don’t even answer our phone calls or emails. We’re trying, believe me.
“Quote me on this: I’ve got a beautiful wife (Soletta), but before I met her, I wanted to marry Christie Brinkley. But Christie didn’t want to marry me. That’s kind of like scheduling football. The other team has to want to play to play, too. You need two to tango, as they say.
“It’s the hardest part of my job, trying to get people to play us in football.”
Hamrick said the complaints about Appalachian seem to be rooted in the Mountaineers’ Southern Conference heritage – which interestingly, the Herd also has. The Herd AD also said he often hears about scheduling one FCS foe per year.
This season, 103 of 127 FBS programs will play at least one FCS opponent.
“Let’s try to look at the big picture,” Hamrick said. “How many Big Ten teams have ever played Marshall home-and-home, have ever come to Huntington to play? Never, until Purdue, for the (2015) season opener. How many ACC teams came here home-and-home? None, until Louisville, Pitt and NC State. How many service academies have played here. Zero, until Navy comes here (in 2022).
“We scheduled Kent State and they had an 11-win season (2012). The same with Miami (Ohio) and Ohio. Those two have been long rivals, even before we were in the MAC this last time (1997-2004). We’re playing at East Carolina in 2020, which is the 50th anniversary of the (Marshall team) plane crash.
“That’s a very meaningful game. In 2016, we play Louisville here and at Pitt. Two ACC teams. In 2020, we’re at Ohio and East Carolina – two tough places to win – and we play Pitt here. In 2010, we go to Navy and Appalachian and play ECU in Huntington.
“The commitment Appalachian State has made to playing FBS football is strong. It’s been a great FCS and Division I-AA program for years. Besides, by the time we play in 2021 and 2022, who knows what kind of program they’re going to have? Who knows how good we’ll be then? Nobody knows.
“You schedule and do the best you can.”
Hamrick said he will continue to press for home-and-homes, and said he prefers to not play a “buy” game -- where Marshall gets a guarantee of $1 million-plus – “but we might have to at some point because of financial issues.”
He considered doing that for 2016, when MU has home dates with Louisville, Akron, an FCS opponent to be named and four Conference USA foes. Instead, Hamrick went for a home-and-home (2016 away; 2020 home) “to get a quality team like Pitt, an ACC program, a program with tradition, to come to Huntington … because that’s what our fans want.”
Hamrick said scheduling considerations also include getting the Herd into areas where alumni outside the region have an opportunity to see the Herd play. He also said there’s a cost-consciousness involved, because if Marshall doesn’t increase season ticket sales at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, revenue will remain tight.
“There is an aspect to keep travel costs down, and obviously it’s much easier to go play in Ohio than it is in Wyoming,” Hamrick said. “We want games our fans can travel to. And when we have alumni in areas where we play, we try to cultivate potential donors, like with games in northeast Ohio against Akron and Kent State. We have a huge alumni base in North Carolina – so we go to play NC State, East Carolina and Appalachian State.”
Hamrick said Marshall will “continue to try and schedule teams that will come here, because our fans deserve that.”
“There are reasons we have a hard time getting games,” the Herd AD said. “We’re so good at home no one wants to come here (an .845 percentage at Edwards Stadium trails only an .846 by Georgia Southern among FBS teams that have played more than one season in their stadium).
“It’s a hard place to get to, and Huntington is not a visiting-fan destination. Another thing is most visiting teams have to stay in Charleston, because of the lack of full-service hotels in Huntington. That’s just being honest.
“I promise you we’ll continue to work hard to get quality teams for home-and-homes. Appalachian State is one of those.”