UM working to fix MSU-OSU schedule 'imbalance'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh

Michigan and Notre Dame have renewed their rivalry, at least for two years, but not without some consequence to Michigan’s scheduling.

The Wolverines will play at Notre Dame on Sept. 1, 2018, and Notre Dame will play at Michigan on Oct. 26, 2019, it was announced Thursday. The teams last played in 2014 at Notre Dame Stadium.

This change makes the Wolverines’ 2018 schedule challenging with their three rivalry games — Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State — all on the road.

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel appeared Friday morning on WTKA’s “Michigan Insider” show and told host Bruce Madej that while the 2018 schedule is not ideal, he needed balance in the 2019 home schedule and needed seven home games. The Big Ten is moving to a nine-game conference schedule this year, which means teams will have five home conference games one year and four the next. Michigan has five Big Ten road games in 2019, hence the need for home games.

“Many factors go into creating the schedule,” Manuel told “Michigan Insider.” “One of the things that we’re looking at, this year starts the nine-game conference schedule in the Big Ten, five and four. In the even years are five conference games and the odd years obviously are four. That gives us really the potential to have a significant imbalance.

“If we’re on the road in the odd years we only will play six home games. For our team, for our fans, for our budget in terms of budget and where we need to be, we want to have seven home games. When we look at that, we’re off-centered. We’re trying to look at it strategically for our team, our fans and again our budget to balance where we are in terms of number of home contests.

Michigan-Notre Dame to play again in 2018, 2019

“Now, this is not the perfect setup obviously. It would have been perfect if we could have started the series in a later year or reversed it, but it just couldn’t happen. We looked at all those scenarios to try to make it happen, and we couldn’t.”

Manuel said he is talking to the Big Ten about trying to split the rivalry games against Michigan State and Ohio State so that they’re both not at home or on the road in the same season.

“I’ve had conversations and will continue to have conversations to took look at the imbalance of, particularly Michigan State, Ohio State in the same year,” Manuel said. “But in this particular case it was really combination of what we needed, what Notre Dame needed, and then you work through it trying to figure out whether you can balance the schedule.

“I’m hopeful, yes (the Big Ten schedule can change). It’s something I’d like to work toward. They’re our two biggest rivals and while you love the fact you have both of them at home when you have them, you hate the fact you have both of them on the road when you have to go on the road in those even years like this year."

Manuel told the “Michigan Insider” that renewing the Michigan-Notre Dame series was sparked by conversations between Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. He said interim Michigan athletic director Jim Hackett and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick made initial contact about the possibility.

While this is only a two-game contract for now, Manuel would like to negotiate something more permanent with the Irish.

“We are talking about future opportunities that exist on both our schedules and when could we make more of a long-term commitment, four years, six years, a few series of games on the schedule long term and locking in now — those discussions have been great,” Manuel said.

“We’ve been trying to get through this in terms of this game and making all the moves that we needed to make these two games happen. We’re in conversation and our staffs are in conversation about future years in terms of longer-term series of games to bring Notre Dame and Michigan where it should be, consistently on the schedule, maybe not every year, but knowing that series exists and Michigan and Notre Dame will play consistently in the future.”

Manuel also discussed the challenges of adjusting Michigan’s schedule to accommodate Notre Dame, namely, having to cancel a home-and-home with Arkansas. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, a former Michigan athletic administrator, said in a statement on Thursday he was disappointed in Michigan’s timing pulling out of the series. The Michigan-Arkansas series had been on the books since 2012. Rutgers also had to shift to another date on the 2019 Michigan schedule to make room for the Irish.

“I had to talk to Jeff Long,” Manuel said. “I know as an AD when you get those calls about people wanting to move games on your schedule or cancel a series it makes it very difficult. Jeff is a longtime friend, a former colleague here and so that was not an easy conversation. We got through it, we figured it out and we’re going to live up the contract terms and so it all worked out.”

Michigan will pay a $2 million penalty to Arkansas to cancel the series.

Manuel, a former Michigan football player, is delighted things worked out.

“I’m really excited to have Notre Dame back,” Manuel said. “I understand we’re going to be on the road against them in ’18, but we have one awesome schedule for 2019 at home. I know Jim (Harbaugh) and the staff are excited about having this opportunity. I wish it could have been different, I wish we could have had more of a balance with the teams at home in ’18, but I think our fans will be really excited that those two seasons when we have our opportunity to bring the rivalry back.”