Notre Dame Football: Why the Irish Don't Need Michigan on Future Schedules

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Notre Dame Football: Why the Irish Don't Need Michigan on Future Schedules
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Notre Dame's scheduling agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference—a byproduct of the university's decision to join the conference in all sports aside from football and hockey—has miffed Michigan head coach Brady Hoke for one particular reason (h/t ESPN.com).

During a speaking engagement in Grand Rapids, Mich., Hoke voiced his displeasure with the discontinuation of the rivalry between his Wolverines and the Fighting Irish.

"We have unbelievable rivalry games at Michigan. The Notre Dame, that rivalry, which they're chickening out of ... they're still going to play Michigan State, they'll play Purdue; they don't want to play Michigan."

Hoke, entering his third season as head coach at Michigan, is referencing Notre Dame's decision to cancel contests between the two schools in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Yes, the cancellation of those games was solely Notre Dame's decision, which is a fact that needs to be laid out on the table before further discussion.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Hoke's apparent frustration with the arrangement isn't off-base; the rivalry between Notre Dame and Michigan, while not as tenured as the Irish's rivalries with Michigan State and Purdue, has rapidly increased in value and popularity, as this season's matchup will be the third consecutive broadcast in prime time.

It's a contest with deep regional ties, and one fans have circled on the calendar on an annual basis.

Unfortunately, scheduling casualties are an inevitable consequence in the ever-spinning game of conference realignment (see Kansas-Missouri and Texas A&M-Texas). 

With Notre Dame making the jump to the ACC, the Irish, while still being an independent in football, will play five games per season against ACC teams. And with only 12 regular-season slots available, Notre Dame will be limited to seven games to fulfill its ideal of having a true "national schedule."

Additionally, the Irish have already stated their desire to maintain traditional rivalries with USC, Stanford and Navy, meaning that, in a perfect world, they would have four available slots remaining.

Let's take a look at Notre Dame's 2015 schedule to gain clarity on the issue at hand.

The Irish will face five ACC opponents: Boston College and Georgia Tech at home, and Clemson, Virginia and Pittsburgh on the road. 

The so-called "non-conference" portion of the schedule includes Texas, Purdue, Massachusetts, Navy, USC and Stanford.

That leaves the Irish with just one remaining slot, which Michigan fans may argue should belong to the Wolverines. And this is where the discussion will lead to heated exchanges between fans of both schools.

As the schedule is currently mapped out, the one available slot would be used for the Irish's annual Shamrock Series game, which takes place at a neutral site in an attractive TV market against a non-regional opponent.

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Michigan doesn't fit that bill, leading to the consensus belief that a brand-name team outside the Midwest would finalize the 2015 schedule.

The undeniable fact is that mutuality is non-existent between the schools; Notre Dame does not need Michigan, whereas Michigan needs Notre Dame.

The Big Ten Conference as a whole is in a period of decline; the conference's last national championship arrived in 2002, and concerns existed as to whether Ohio State's schedule would have been strong enough to qualify the Buckeyes for last season's title game had they been eligible.

Because of the conference's lack of quality teams, members such as Michigan and Ohio State—both marquee programs—are in desperate need of non-conference dates with powerhouse programs, making Notre Dame's cancellation of its series with the Wolverines a direct blow to the Michigan program.

The scenario also sheds light on Hoke's derisive comments. The sentiment surrounding the banter is comparable to a breakup in which one person—Notre Dame—leaves the other—Michigan—knowing his or her options are abounding.

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