Dave Brandon: 'Notre Dame is going to do what they do. Not only do we not have any control over it, we have little interest in it.' (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
The Michigan-Notre Dame series is coming to an end without any of the mud-slinging drama that often goes with breakups after a long-term relationship.
Sure, there have been a few petty digs here and there. A “regional rivalry” slam here, a “Chicken Dance” slam there, but overall, it has been a mature parting of ways.
Once Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon was informed by Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick with a letter before the 2012 game that Notre Dame was choosing to end the series after Saturday’s game in South Bend, Michigan moved on despite the slight.
Michigan and Notre Dame will play for the 42nd time Saturday night, marking the last time in the foreseeable future the two rivals will face each other.
“We’ll miss the rivalry, it’s a great rivalry,” Brandon told The Detroit News on Thursday. “Neither team needs the other. We’re not having trouble scheduling big-time opponents that historically we haven’t been able to play. We don’t need Notre Dame and they obviously they don’t need us.
“This is the way life works. They’ve moved on and made decisions, and we respect that. It doesn’t have to be a battle royale or some kind of a situation where there’s a winner or a loser. It’s just change. The folks at Notre Dame, when they joined the ACC, had some decisions to make and created priorities and created a strategy how they wanted to schedule the football team. It’s put us in a position we’re moving forward.”
But while there hasn’t been any real drama and verbal fisticuffs, there have been a few in-your-face digs. Michigan coach Brady Hoke told a group in west Michigan last year that Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the rivalry. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly called Michigan-Notre Dame a regional rivalry. Michigan played the “Chicken Dance” after beating Notre Dame last season at Michigan Stadium.
And on Thursday, Notre Dame announced a home-and-home series with Ohio State, Michigan’s arch-rival, in 2022 and 2023.
Brandon didn’t pay the news much notice.
“I don’t care who they play,” Brandon said. “It’s the least of my concerns. Notre Dame is going to do what they do. Not only do we not have any control over it, we have little interest in it.”
What losing the series has done, though, is given Brandon the ability to explore the national landscape for big-name home-and-home series. He had no warning that Swarbrick was going to hand him a letter ending the series, so Michigan had to do some scrambling to fill the schedule vacancies left by the Irish.
“We have home-and-home games scheduled or contracted or verbally committed through 2027,” Brandon said. “The dilemma was scheduling these home-and-away games with these marquee opponents because people plan in advance. That’s why we got caught short when we were informed by Notre Dame they were dropping the series. Knowing that, we’re out there talking to programs interested in playing us and coming here and having us go there. That’s the work we’ve been doing the last few years.
“Everybody thinks this scheduling thing is just picking up the phone. It’s way more complicated than that. There are so many programs scheduled into the future, so you really have to work a lot for your matchups for your openings. We’re looking for bigger home non-conference games some years than other years. It’s no big secret the way our schedule works – in odd years we have Michigan State and Ohio State, and those years are less important than the even years to schedule big-name home opponents. I wonder why Arkansas and SMU are coming in 2018?”
The positive takeaway from no longer scheduling Notre Dame is the flexibility for Michigan to move around the country and bring other name programs to Ann Arbor.
“We’re not going to play Florida or Arkansas or Washington or Virginia Tech if we’re committed to the annual rivalry game with Notre Dame,” Brandon said. “They moved in a different direction, and it opened up a door for us to go in a new direction.
“We’re fine. There’s no doom and gloom at Michigan Athletics when it comes to football scheduling. The feedback for teams we’re scheduling has been overwhelmingly positive. That doesn’t mean we don’t respect the (Notre Dame) rivalry and we’re not disappointed -- this is something that has been very important and has an enormously long history and great battles. It’s unfortunate that particular series is ending for the time being. We’re pivoting toward a different direction and so are they.”
Brandon said he was eager to schedule UCLA. The teams will meet in 2022 and 2023 when Notre Dame plays Ohio State.
“I’m thrilled we’re playing UCLA in that two-year cycle,” he said. “I don’t really care who Notre Dame plays or Ohio State plays in their non-conference cycle.”
So for now and for the near-distant future, Michigan-Notre Dame will be no more. Unless …
“The way it would happen, we would either run into them in a bowl game or in a playoff series or if somewhere along the line over the next 14 years we have one open date and there’s a neutral-site game opportunity, which I don’t know when that would be,” Brandon said. “Those would be the only scenarios I could identify at this point that would renew the rivalry, until later in the next decade.”