Tuesday, September 25, 2012
A new era for Big Ten, Notre Dame
By Brian Bennett
Notre Dame just got finished dusting off three straight Big Ten teams, beating Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan in order. It was an impressive run but one that might not be possible again in the near future.
The Irish have notified Michigan that they are opting out of their games against the Wolverines from 2015 to 2017, the Associated Press first reported Tuesday. The two schools were already scheduled to take a hiatus in 2018-19. That means we won't see a Michigan-Notre Dame game for at least five straight years after 2014 and maybe longer, as nothing beyond that is guaranteed.
Notre Dame has notified Michigan that it is exercising a three-year out in their series contract.
This is about more than just Michigan, though. This signals a new era in the Notre Dame-Big Ten relationship. Michigan State and Purdue both have cherished series against the Golden Domers that are no longer safe.
The Irish are clearly moving in a new direction. They recently joined the ACC in all sports but football while agreeing to play five football games per year against ACC teams. With Notre Dame wanting to keep Stanford, USC and Navy on the schedule and desiring to play in major recruiting areas, their need to face three Big Ten teams every year has diminished significantly.
For Michigan, it's a loss but not a crippling one. The Wolverines lose a regional rival, but playing Notre Dame doesn't carry nearly the cachet that it once did. Michigan fans don't live and die by this game like they do Ohio State. Fans will miss it, but they probably won't yearn for it.
In fact, they might not even notice if athletic director Dave Brandon replaces Notre Dame with high-profile games like this year's opener against Alabama. Michigan has already scheduled Pac-12 opponents Utah, Colorado and Oregon State for the near future. Brandon will have to scramble a bit to fill holes in the '15 and '16 schedules because many agreements are signed years in advance. Hopefully, though, the maize-and-blue use this opportunity to play marquee matchups, because that's what a program of this magnitude ought to do, especially with strength of schedule likely a large component of the forthcoming playoff structure. Brandon is a bold-enough thinker to recognize this.
The Spartans have a deal with Notre Dame that extends through 2031, although it's unknown what kind of out clauses the Irish have in that contract. Last week, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told MLive.com, "Everything’s not up to them. What’s up to them is to make a request to alter the contract, and once they make that request, then it will be up to us on how we want to respond."
Hollis already has some big-time games on the future docket, including Oregon (2014 and 2015), Alabama (2016 and '17) and Miami ('20, '21). The Spartans played Boise State this year and will continue that series. They will play a strong schedule regardless, but the Notre Dame series has been good for them on the whole, especially when you consider that their top rival, Michigan, does not view them the same way.
Purdue is the team that should be really nervous here. The Boilermakers really value their in-state rivalry against Notre Dame and love the exposure it brings for a program that sometimes struggles to attract attention. You get the feeling athletic director Morgan Burke would schedule the Irish twice a year if he could.
But the Purdue series does little to benefit Notre Dame except that it is a very manageable road trip in odd years. It doesn't help Irish recruiting efforts or create much of a stir outside of northern Indiana. If Notre Dame truly wants to start being more of a coastal program, then there's little reason for it to play Purdue every year. While the Boilers will do everything they can to keep the series going, they shouldn't be surprised to see a Dear John letter from South Bend arriving in their mailbox soon.
Notre Dame didn't want to join the Big Ten, and the Big Ten would never have agreed to the kind of one-foot-in, one-foot-out arrangement the Irish made with the ACC. So both parties will move in different directions.
The Notre Dame games have been mostly beneficial for the conference, but in years when the Irish weren't that good, they dragged down the nonconference schedules. This year, they handed the Big Ten three losses. Today's news isn't necessarily No. 4.