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Hackett anticipates ‘cool surprises’ for UM schedule

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett said he anticipates some “cool surprises” regarding future scheduling, but he seems less certain about a night game in 2016 and uncertain about reviving the Notre Dame series in the very near future, and most importantly, he said attempting to stagger Michigan’s annual rivalry games essentially is impossible.

Hackett, appearing Friday morning on the “Michigan Insider” radio show on WTKA-AM (1050) touched on a number of subjects but detailed issues and positives about future scheduling. Hackett has been interim AD since Dave Brandon resigned Oct. 31, 2014. Warde Manuel will take over as Michigan’s new athletic director on March 14, but Hackett has said he will remain involved in Michigan athletics.

Since the Big Ten grew to 14 teams and split into the East and West Divisions, Michigan not only had to play consecutive games at Michigan State (2013 and 2014) but no longer has staggered games home-and-away against Michigan State and Ohio State — both rivals, for instance, played at Michigan Stadium in 2015 and Michigan will play both on the road this fall.

Michigan Insider host Sam Webb asked Hackett about working with the Big Ten on trying to stagger those games.

“We need a slide rule to go through this because I was so surprised when I got into the job, of course I knew about the issue as a fan, season-ticket holder and so many people had written about this paradox,” Hackett said. “The simple insight is that when they were solving for two things, it causes problems.

“The two things they were solving for was, A, you have to build these new divisions and create matchups and then, B, in doing that you don’t want to destroy really important rivalries and maybe even a C, we want to play Ohio State at the last game of the season. That seems less vital but what happens when you do the equals on your spreadsheet to those three variables you ended up with Michigan State up there in East Lansing two years in a row. I was so frustrated when that happened. Deep down inside, that program’s done really done well and we want every advantage we can get. And so, no, the only way that gets solved is if one of those variables changes, and that’s not going to be the case.”

Hackett said when Manuel starts work at Michigan, one of the first things they will discuss is scheduling.

“There’s a couple things that are still percolating that he and I have got to talk about,” Hackett said, adding that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh also is a big part of the scheduling conversations.

“With Warde, with coach, we’re going to sit down and talk about our long-term schedule. I would say fans (should) expect some changes. There were some decisions made a few years ago that for whatever reason made sense then. I don’t know that they make sense today. For example in the future because of the nine-game Big Ten season, we’re going to have to have an early Big Ten game as the season opens. All the Big Ten teams have agreed to start reconfiguring schedules to allow for that. And then there are some cool surprises maybe that will come. We’re working hard on some things can’t announce yet that I’m excited about.”

Hackett was asked about resurrecting the Michigan-Notre Dame series, which is on hiatus for the foreseeable future. The teams last played each other in 2014. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly last year, however, suggested there is strong interest from Notre Dame to revive the rivalry, and Harbaugh has said he would be in favor of it.

“Notre Dame is complicated by a different set of challenges,” Hackett told the “Michigan Insider” show. “One is the respective teams have different television arrangements. It didn’t use to be an issue, and this has been good for Michigan and good for Notre Dame is that we sell the rights ahead of the schedule

“Starting in 2017, all the television broadcasts of a Michigan game at home or any time we play a Big Ten team are sold by the Big Ten Network. Now, the Big Ten network doesn’t televise all of them. ESPN will televise, Fox will televise, but in 2017 this contract starts to deliver our content. For example, in 2017 we play Florida in Texas at Jerry Jones Stadium down there, (and) we wouldn’t be able to see that in the future under this agreement. We could still go down there probably if we worked something out. In ’17 you could have NBC a player in both of our camps but we don’t know because the contracts aren’t settled.”

Hackett assured there is an open line of communication with Notre Dame.

“I will tell you this, the relationship is good and it started with Jim and coach Kelly working together on a desire to play together,” Hackett said. “But (there’s) nothing firm yet.”

Hackett has said he would like to host a night game this fall at Michigan Stadium and has sounded more positive regarding that situation than he did on Friday. He reiterated that prime-time games do get three times the viewership numbers than games held at noon.

“The night game thing is also related to this 2017 line in the sand,” Hackett said. “What happens in ’17, we have to start accommodating more night games and that’s a challenge at Michigan for a bunch of reasons. I’ve been trying to think of a way to get (night games) on a regular cadence. On the other hand, as Bo said toe to leather, playing that game at noon has a lot of attraction for the traditionalists, so I don’t know yet. I don’t know if we’re going to have a night game this coming year. Working on it but not settled.”