Griffiths: Notre Dame’s games vs. Big Ten rivals now uncertain

By DOUG GRIFFITHS
ISL Correspondent

Should Big Ten teams be sweating it out when it comes to their long-standing football series’ against Notre Dame?

Probably so. The talking heads at each institution are saying the right things, but only time will tell if the Boilermakers, Spartans and Wolverines continue to be fixtures on the Irish schedule as they have been in the past.

On Wednesday, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick didn’t exactly give a vote of confidence towards keeping all three Big Ten teams on the slate.

Doug Griffiths

We’re going to keep some traditional rivals and we’re going to get around the country, said Swarbrick, who will oversee all Irish sports with the exception of football and hockey entirely making the transition from the Big East to the ACC.

It’s obvious that we will not be able to maintain every rivalry every year.

Time to worry Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan fans. Those three teams perennially play the Irish every football season and benefit greatly from a revenue and exposure standpoint from being included on Notre Dame’s schedule.

Now athletic directors from those three aforementioned schools are wondering if Notre Dame’s new alliance with the ACC and whether playing five games with teams from that conference will spell the end of their long-standing traditional rivalries with the Irish.

Purdue, for example, has been playing Notre Dame since 1946. Its annual clash with the Irish is arguably the Boilermakers’ top game on their schedule each and every season. No, the Old Oaken Bucket battle doesn’t quite have the same clout.

We have a long-time relationship with Notre Dame involving many of our programs, and we expect it to continue, Purdue athletics director Morgan Burke said.

Currently the Irish and Boilermakers have an agreement to play through 2021, but the two schools only have signed contracts for the 2013 and 2014 games. Uh oh.

Michigan State renews its rivalry with the Irish Saturday. It will be the 76th time the two teams have met on the gridiron. The series had a two-year break in 1995 and 1996 as well as in 1953 and 1958. Other than those four seasons, the Spartans and Irish have played every year since 1947.

One of college football’s greatest rivalries will be continued on Sept. 22 when the Irish face Michigan, two of the winningest FBS program’s in the history of the sport (Michigan is No. 1 and Notre Dame is No. 3 behind only Texas).

The Irish and Wolverines have met far fewer times (40 counting this year) than either Purdue-Notre Dame or Michigan State-Notre Dame.

Similar to Purdue, Michigan has a multi-year series contract with Notre Dame that expires in 2020 although the two schools aren’t scheduled to play one another in 2018 or 2019.

Wolverine athletic director Dave Brandon wants to keep the series going beyond that, but says that will be Notre Dame’s call.

Michigan State also has a commitment from Notre Dame that runs through 2031, but it calls for games between the schools for four straight years and then two years off.

Long-time Notre Dame beat writer Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune doesn’t believe the Irish will stop playing Big Ten teams. Rather he’s of the belief that Notre Dame’s commitment to the ACC will force it to be a little more creative when it comes to scheduling.

“The math simply doesn’t allow for Notre Dame to play all five ACC teams, Stanford, USC, Navy, and have variety in its opponent lineup from year to year if it’s going to play three or four Big Ten teams annually, he said.

“I don’t think the Purdue, Michigan or Michigan State series will ever dissolve, but I think there will be some sort of rotation on and off the schedule, perhaps more so for Michigan and MSU than Purdue.

Of course how much stock can be put in schedule contracts is up for debate. It’s certainly not uncommon for schools to break those, especially in this day and age where so many schools are changing conferences.

What is known is Notre Dame will continue playing USC, Stanford and Navy every season. When you add the five games against ACC opposition beginning in 2014 that leaves just four open dates for the Irish to fill.

One of those open dates will likely be a neutral site game. This year the Irish play Miami (Fla.) in Chicago and have future games with Arizona State in Cowboys Stadium and Army in Orlando.

To think Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State will fill what would be the three remaining spots is to say the least wishful thinking.

This year the Irish start a series with Oklahoma, will play Texas in a four-game series and have an upcoming series with Northwestern as well.

We’re still going to be in California every year and we’re still going to find a way to get into the Southwest, said Swarbrick, who will see his team play each ACC team once every three years. And, of course, this gives us a great East Coast footprint and we want to make sure we keep a Midwest presence, too.

We’ll meet our mission and make sure Notre Dame is playing everywhere in the country.

Imagine a future Notre Dame football schedule looking like this:

vs. Army (Orlando)

Purdue

Michigan

@ Texas

Navy

@ Virginia

USC

Florida State

@ Georgia Tech

@ N.C. State

Wake Forest

@ Stanford

It very well could happen.

Finally Wednesday’s announcement of Notre Dame joining the ACC put an end, perhaps once and for all, to the possibility of the Irish joining the Big Ten. The Big Ten had been courting the Irish for quite a while.

However, Notre Dame didn’t want its football program to commit fully to a conference and that was the deal breaker as far as the Big Ten was concerned. It’s believed the Big Ten wanted all Notre Dame sports to be in its conference or none.

Now the Big Ten is left wondering if some or even all of its teams will be left off Notre Dame’s future football schedules.

Related story: ISL’s Samples says Notre Dame likely to eventually end independent football status.

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