Toledo welcomed Maty Mauk and Missouri to the Glass Bowl in 2014. The Rockets have played a long line of power conference foes in recent years, a list that will include Notre Dame in 2021. BLADE PHOTO
With the Convicts (Miami) already in the fold, the University of Toledo this week added the Catholics (Notre Dame) to its menu of future football opponents.
Is there a champion from the 1980s we’re missing? Brigham Young? The Rockets play the Cougars on Sept. 30 in Utah and in 2019 at the Glass Bowl.
The San Francisco 49ers? Hmm. Mark that as a maybe.
Asked if the Rockets have any more big-time nonconference games in the works, Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien said, ”There’s always a possibility.”
“Although I’m not going to hoodwink anyone,” he added. ”My phone is not ringing off the hook with people wanting to play Toledo.”
That’s no surprise. If you’re Notre Dame or Big State U, Toledo is not the team you want to give $1 million — as the Fighting Irish will do — in exchange for a painless early-season win. The Rockets since 2000 have beaten Michigan, Penn State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Purdue, Iowa State (twice), Colorado, Pittsburgh, and Kansas, among others. And yet the games keep coming.
That’s a credit to O’Brien. His legacy at Toledo is complicated, his successes countered by periods of turmoil, including the point-shaving scandal and the napalming tenure of former basketball coach Gene Cross.
But there is one area absent any gray. When it comes to football scheduling — no small part of the job description for an AD in the Mid-American Conference — there is nobody better.
Not in the MAC, and maybe not at the mid-major level anywhere.
The Notre Dame game is the latest example.
If any Tom, Dick, or Akron can sign up for a one-off payday at a traditional power — and Toledo does this, too — the Rockets’ trip to South Bend in 2021 is in a different category. (Remember, the Irish hardly have an open calendar, having made room for only one MAC school since 1920 on a slate filled out almost exclusively with power-conference programs and the service academies.)
In a different category, too, are the times the big boys visit the Glass Bowl.
The other 11 teams in the MAC combined have hosted an average of 1.9 games against power-conference programs since 2006. Central Michigan and Buffalo lead the way with four. Bowling Green has played two, Ohio and Eastern Michigan none.
Through one home-and-home arrangement after another, the Rockets have hosted seven — including Purdue, Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri — along with three other then-ranked name-brand programs (Fresno State, Boise State, and Cincinnati).
And that’s not to mention O’Brien’s two most noted scheduling coups: the deal that will bring Miami to the Glass Bowl in 2018 and the Rockets’ “home” game against Ohio State. For reasons we’ll never fully understand, the Buckeyes memorably ceded the gate from the schools’ 2009 meeting in Cleveland, netting Toledo more than $3 million.
The latter deal may never be replicated, but hopefully Toledo’s example will be. Beyond the national exposure gained, these marquee games are just plain fun for the fans.
For O’Brien, all it takes is a lot of hours on the phone and, in the case of the Notre Dame game, perhaps a little luck.
“It’s not my fault that I’m Irish,” he said.