The news that broke on Tuesday regarding the cancellation of future Notre Dame football games against Michigan wasn't necessarily new information – if you listened to comments made by Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick earlier this month – nor was it a new decision being enacted by Notre Dame.
The real question lies in what it means in terms of scheduling for Notre Dame.
Swarbrick informed his Wolverine counterpart, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, via a letter over the weekend that Notre Dame would play Michigan again in 2013 and 2014, but is cancelling the scheduled games in the years from 2015 to 2017.
"While this move is a necessary precaution as we begin the process of meeting our new scheduling commitment to the ACC," Swarbrick wrote in his letter to Brandon, "please know that Notre Dame very much values its relationship with Michigan and we look forward to working with you to ensure that our great football rivalry can continue."
The two programs temporarily suspended their rivalry often in recent years. The teams did not meet in 2000 or 2001, 1995 or 1996, and 1983 or 1984. In fact, Michigan and Notre Dame never played between 1944 to 1977. So what happens with this series post-2017 is anyone's guess at this point according to Brandon.
"The ball is in their court because they've triggered the three-game notice," Brandon told the Associated Press. “We'll play them next year at Michigan Stadium for the last time in a while — it appears — and we'll make our last scheduled trip to South Bend in 2014. There will likely be nothing on the board for five years after that. Beyond that, I don't know what will happen."
Swarbrick's mention of the Irish teams joining the Atlantic Coast Conference (at a yet to be determined later date) is more than likely just part of the reason that Notre Dame wants to curb its Midwestern-based games.
Earlier this month when discussing the school's new league affiliation, Swarbrick was clear that changes would be coming to future schedules, and enhancing the football program's brand in key recruiting and alumni areas would be important.
“I'm not here to tell you there won't be any schedule changes; there will,” Swarbrick said at the time. “But I don't necessarily think that they will be of the magnitude of what some people are predicting they will be. We are going to keep that and we are going to keep some traditional rivals and we are going to get around the country. We are still going to be in California every year and we are still going to find ways to get into southwest. And of course, this gives us a great East Coast footprint and we want to make sure we keep a Midwest presence, too. So we will meet our mission of making sure Notre Dame is playing everywhere in the country.”
Even at the time of the ACC decision, Swarbrick knew that something would probably be altered when it came to traditional games with opponents like Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State. With the obligation to play five games with ACC opponents annually, plus getting to California every year through games with Stanford and USC, something simply had to give.
“It's obvious that we will not be able to maintain every rivalry every year,” Swarbrick said. “… getting to California each year is very important to us. So Stanford and USC rivalries will be retained, and of course our history is Navy is unique. And after that, we are going to work to maintain as many of our traditional games as we can.”
Another future scheduling opportunity is Notre Dame's ability to attract crowds in neutral site games, such as next week's game with Miami (Fla.) in Chicago. Swarbrick would like for that opportunity to continue.
“It's certainly a strong preference of ours to continue those,” Swarbrick said. “We continue to be very pleased with what that does for the University program foremost; and secondly, yes, I think it could be an opportunity to fill some of the scheduling with the ACC. I think there will be some places we will go where it would be very logical.”
With Notre Dame cutting some annual ties with certain opponents, plus the bonus of maintaining its independence, it allows Swarbrick some flexibility as he builds future schedules to appease many different factions of the Fighting Irish faithful.
“Because people from Notre Dame country are from the entire country,” Swarbrick explained, “it's really important for us to be able to use football in a way this institution always has: To promote the school. Opening the season in Dublin was really a remarkable experience for our university; the experience we had in New York we had at Yankee Stadium and we'll have this year in Chicago, traveling to California every year; those are not incidental to us.”