Notre Dame will not be playing Michigan from 2015 to 2017. The school informed Michigan in September that it is exercising its three-year out clause and is taking a hiatus from the rivalry game series that was first played in 1887. The series' future beyond 2017 is uncertain.
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke didn't mince words in his reaction on the decision, according to ESPN:
"We have unbelievable rivalry games at Michigan," Hoke said. "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."
You can't really blame Hoke. Notre Dame is canceling a series in which Michigan leads 23-16-1. As Hoke pointed out, Notre Dame is keeping its series with Purdue and Michigan State. Notre Dame leads its series with Purdue 56-26-2 and Michigan State 46-28-1.
Notre Dame has a future five-game schedule with the Atlantic Coast Conference, and that's what apparently prompted the Irish to cancel the Michigan series. Unless the ACC improves its football, there may be no excuse for Notre Dame using its future ACC schedule as a crutch for shelving the Michigan series. Until you take a look at the Irish's probable 2016 schedule:
- 09/03 - at Texas
- 09/17 - Purdue
- 09/24 - at Michigan State
- 10/08 - Miami (FL)
- 11/05 - Navy (site TBA)
- 11/26 - at USC
- TBA - Duke
- TBA - at NC State
- TBA - Stanford
- TBA - Syracuse (at E. Rutherford, NJ)
- TBA - Virginia Tech
That's a solid schedule with no FCS teams on it. But an inherent problem with Notre Dame's schedule is that it has complete control over it. BCS schools only have control over their non-conference game schedules. Oregon can't cancel Stanford, and LSU can't cancel Florida. Their respective conference commissioners have the final say.
So Notre Dame putting one of its biggest games on hiatus—one in which the Irish have a losing series record—looks like a chicken move.
If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck. Or in this case, a chicken.
Apologists will argue that Notre Dame doesn't need Michigan and Michigan needs Notre Dame because of the Big Ten's recent lackluster performances. But Purdue and Michigan State are still on the schedule. Notre Dame doesn't need Michigan but needs Purdue and Michigan State? And Navy?
If Notre Dame is seriously considering its football program joining a conference full-time, then maybe this move makes sense. As of now, its hockey and football programs remain independent. Future ACC games for Notre Dame include Florida State in 2014, Clemson in 2015 and Virginia Tech in 2016.
Notre Dame's insistence to have its football program remain independent is completely understandable. The school is making oodles of money through its media rights, merchandise sales and BCS payouts. According to Forbes' Chris Smith, Notre Dame had $70 million in revenues for 2011, with $40 million of that profit.
Was ND's shelving of the Michigan game a chicken move?
Haters will still hate, but that kind of cash explains its football program's commitment to independence. But that doesn't mean football fans have to like it.
Nobody likes to pay taxes, but we do so begrudgingly in order to have necessary public services like police and fire protection. Football teams appearing to take the easy way out aren't held in high esteem, either, even if it makes sense. Especially if it is Notre Dame. Because anything Notre Dame does will always be viewed as the lesser of two evils.
Temporarily shelving Michigan was a bad PR move. Shelving its series with Purdue instead would have probably been met with a dull roar instead of righteous indignation.
There are now three things in life that are certain: death, taxes and Notre Dame fanning the flames of college football fans' angst.