When Notre Dame agreed to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports with a five-game commitment to ACC opponents annually, the Big Ten had been rebuffed by the university for the final time. The Big Ten did not need a twelfth member that was only in halfway in football, and Notre Dame needed more games outside the Midwest to maintain their national profile. It was just never going to work.
But the main questions following the announcement were centered on which annual rivalries and series would become the latest casualties of realignment. Notre Dame carries on regular series with at least seven teams, including three Big Ten teams (Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State) and four others (Navy, Stanford, USC, Boston College).
With Boston College and the other east-coast teams being covered by the five ACC games in the future, that leaves six rivals for seven annual game slots. Notre Dame prides itself on playing a tough national schedule, but there is no way the Irish want to keep all six rivals, five of which are usually tough in football. Plus, keeping all six rivalries makes it difficult to have any schedule flexibility that is desirable in formulating different schedules from year to year.
In short, the math did not add up. Notre Dame could keep three or four of these rivalries to have a set schedule of eight or nine games, like other conference members, but not all of them. It came as no surprise that Notre Dame chose to keep the annual game in California by maintaining the two series with Stanford and USC, and Navy is an easy win that will remain on the schedule as a nod to the service academies.
By affirming the commitment to these three teams, it leaves the three Big Ten teams out in the cold. Yesterday Notre Dame officially opted out of games with Michigan from 2015 through 2017, which will suspend the series after 2014 until at least 2020. Those games were scheduled through 2031, but it seems likely that many of those games will be canceled, if not all of them.
Michigan State and Notre Dame already chose to put three two-year breaks in the next 20 years of games. Meanwhile, Purdue is signed up to play Notre Dame annually through 2021. Given Michigan State's recent resurgence, it would not be surprising if Notre Dame opts out of the later games in those contracts as well.
Which leaves only Purdue, and the Boilermakers might stay as a regular fixture on the schedule to maintain the good Indiana ties. In addition, Purdue is not as daunting an opponent on a regular basis like the Michigan schools.
As a result, I expect the Notre Dame series against Michigan and Michigan State to be over in the next couple years. That will provide enough flexibility to keep other national games on the schedule like upcoming series planned against Texas, Miami and other service academies.
So the biggest question is whether Purdue stays on the schedule long term. There are also 2014 and 2018 games scheduled against Northwestern, another local school to Notre Dame. Although these games clearly benefit Purdue and Northwestern, perhaps now is the time for the Big Ten, as a conference, to unofficially excommunicate Notre Dame by refusing to play against them in the regular season.
The Big Ten found a new dance partner in Nebraska, and things are going well in the new 12-team Big Ten. While the football has taken a dip overall in 2012, there is still a lot of excitement about the conference race, and Nebraska is helping to maintain the small bit of national profile the conference has this year. Big games against Wisconsin and Ohio State will still draw national attention with the Cornhuskers in the conference.
Perhaps adding these high profile games with Nebraska will negate any losses suffered by dropping Notre Dame off all the schedules. Both those teams have a lot of history, and both will likely stay nationally relevant. Plus, Michigan and Michigan State are guaranteed to play Nebraska every year, which is nice compensation for losing Notre Dame.
Although Purdue may not go along with it, this appears to be a good time to cut ties with Notre Dame. If the Irish are willing to sacrifice the best series with the Big Ten then the Big Ten should let them drift off to the ACC and then focus on improving the brand of Midwest football. With a Pac-12 scheduling agreement off the table, this allows for a nine-game conference schedule (if desired) and more flexibility to schedule great inter-regional match ups.
Even though Ohio State has not played Notre Dame since the 1990s, can anybody deny the great stage the Buckeyes have been on against Texas and USC in the last decade? These are the types of games against major conference opponents that the Big Ten should focus on. While playing Alabama in Week 1 may not be the best idea, it would be a great idea to keep playing the SEC and develop that rivalry further.
Notre Dame did not need the Big Ten. If the Big Ten chooses to proactively cut ties with the Irish, I believe they will find that they did not really need the Irish either. It is unfortunate that realignment has forced teams to go outside their regions for conference affiliations, but that's the brave new world that college football lives in.
By playing Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC opponents more regularly, the profile of the Big Ten will stay high and the conference will still end up in some of the best bowl games possible (as well as the upcoming playoff). The conference coaches and athletic directors can turn this seeming downside into an upside by committing to stronger schedules, regardless of whether those schedules include Notre Dame.
It's time to cut ties. Or, in the words of Catholics, it's time to excommunicate Notre Dame.
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