Sometimes piecing together a college football team's season schedule starts with a casual conversation among athletic directors.
Other times it takes a cold call and a quick pitch to another school. Or maybe just texting an old friend or colleague.
There isn't one clear-cut method to how Fresno State goes about assembling its nonconference schedule. But it is a balancing act that plays out years before the teams finally meet on the field.
Fans across the U.S. generally want their teams to play the best in the country. Coaches, for the most part, want to see a fair number of teams they are likely to beat.
At Fresno State, it is left to Athletic Director Thomas Boeh to put together a schedule that'll excite fans and entice them to buy season tickets, but still give the Bulldogs a chance to succeed and grow.
It's a responsibility that requires contacts and negotiating skills, all the while executing the broader mission of funding the athletic department.
"Creating an attractive nonconference schedule, especially getting opponents to come to Bulldog Stadium, doesn't just happen with a couple of phone calls," Boeh said. "These conversations go on for years, sometimes, to get things done. You need a little luck. You need a good product to sell.
"… You've got to stay on it and always have to stay in tune to who has openings."
Gone is the "Anybody, anytime, anywhere" mantra that Fresno State preached for years under former coach Pat Hill.
The push for those kind of demanding schedules has steadily dissipated.
Ideally, the Bulldogs strive for more balance and prefer to play one team from a Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conference, two programs similar to Fresno State in terms of athletic funding and support, and one lesser-type opponent usually drawn from the Football Championship Subdivision.
Coach Tim DeRuyter and Boeh agree on that formula.
DeRuyter likes it because it gives the Bulldogs a better chance to win, while also offering some balance and variety to the competition.
Boeh added that Fresno State never wants to become too dependent on guarantee games — so-called "one-and-done" agreements that often require a mid-major team such as Fresno State to play at a national power like Louisiana State for hundreds of thousands of dollars or more but with no promise of ever returning the favor and playing at Bulldog Stadium.
"The way to grow as a program isn't from getting that one-time check," Boeh said. "That's not sustainable income. The revenues that support that effort to grow comes from within, from home games and getting that support locally.
"That's why it is important to have an attractive home schedule, bring in name programs that fans recognize. Hopefully, they do their part by supporting and coming to the games."
The formula can't always be followed to the letter.
Next year, Fresno State's first three games are against programs with significantly larger athletic budgets — Pac-12 programs USC and Utah on the road, followed by Nebraska of the Big Ten at home.
Fresno State also will play Southern Utah, a Football Championship Subdivision program.
"Next season is an anomaly," Boeh said. "We usually prefer not to schedule that way."
Boeh was more inclined to veer from the usual scheduling philosophy to lock up a chance to play USC, even if it is at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The last time the Bulldogs played there, in 2005, it was one of the most memorable games in school history — a near-upset of the top-ranked Trojans before Fresno State fell 50-42.
And there still is a big financial incentive to play USC. Fresno State is guaranteed to make at least $500,000 — and possibly as much as $1 million — with ticket sales. The school is allotted 8,000 for the Aug. 30 game.
The home opener with Nebraska was part of a two-for-one deal agreed to in 2008. The Bulldogs played at Nebraska in 2011 and will complete the contract by returning to Memorial Stadium in 2016.
Last year, Boeh added Utah in a one-for-one agreement that brings the Utes to Bulldogs Stadium in 2015.
Fresno State was scheduled to play Idaho to close out nonconference play, but this week pushed the Vandals back to 2018 and brought aboard Southern Utah.
Fresno State has its 2015 and 2016 nonconference schedules locked up, both offering more balance.
In 2015, Fresno State hosts Abilene Christian, travels to Ole Miss, hosts Utah, then plays at Brigham Young.
In 2016, Fresno State plays at Nebraska, hosts Sacramento State and Tulsa, then heads to Toledo.
The Bulldogs have games scheduled as far ahead as 2019. Boeh and James Sewell — formerly the staff assistant to the director of athletics and now working for the Bulldog Foundation — spearhead it, sometimes getting input from other administrative staff.
Strange as it might seem, the coach plays a minute role. DeRuyter takes part in discussions and is allowed to offer input.
"Thomas consults with me but he does the scheduling," DeRuyter said. "I play whoever he tells me to play.
"I think a good formula for success is two (teams) who look like us, one BCS and one FCS. It gives you a chance to play a BCS team, a chance to play against different leagues and different people around the country, and hopefully, it gives you a chance to win. That's the ultimate goal."
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