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Joseph: Michigan decision is a sad one

Allan Joseph | Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It’s a sad day.
The news that Notre Dame and Michigan will suspend their annual series after 2014 is an unfortunate byproduct of Notre Dame’s move to the ACC in the next two years. With the agreement to play five games each year against ACC schools, something in the schedule had to give. It’s just sad that the Michigan game was that something.

The two teams bill it as the “oldest rivalry in college football,” and there’s some truth to that. But if you take a look closer, you begin to understand why Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick canceled the series. Saturday’s 13-6 Irish victory was just the 40th meeting between the two teams. It’s a relatively recent series compared to the USC (83 meetings), Michigan State (75), Purdue (84), and Navy (86) matchups. It doesn’t have the recruiting benefits involved in a biennial trip to Stanford, and it isn’t in the future ACC like the Pittsburgh or Boston College series. It’s not even either school’s premier rivalry (those would be USC and Ohio State, if you were wondering).

But it’s sad nonetheless. These are two of the most storied programs in the sport, and it’s not like recent history has taken a shine off the series – for the last four years, viewers across the country have been watching incredibly exciting contests in huge numbers. Among ACC schools, only Florida State can even approach the prestige the Wolverines have as a program, yet an annual matchup with the Seminoles still wouldn’t replace the hole in the schedule.

There’s something about the gold and winged helmets lining up across from each other. There’s something about watching the two winningest schools in college football history face off every year. When these are two schools whose football histories have been intertwined for over a century, there’s something about the annual contest for the latest chapter in the history books.

And now, at least for a while, that’ll be gone. Ideally, of course, Swarbrick would have found a way to play two of the three traditional Big Ten opponents every year on a rotating basis.
But we don’t know what those contracts look like, and given Swarbrick’s masterful leadership of Irish athletics, this temporary pause is very probably the best-case scenario.
It’s a sad move, and it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the move to the ACC. The conference change was a necessary move to preserve football independence, and if the Irish have to sacrifice an annual contest against Michigan to stay independent, that’s a worthy tradeoff. Of course, just because it’s the right move doesn’t mean it’s not sad.

There’s talk the series could resume around 2020. I hope it does. The atmosphere, the importance and yes, the financial incentives are too great to put on the shelf forever. Until the series is renewed, however, looking at the schedule after 2014 will always be a little bit sad.

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.