SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is about to go dormant again.
The series dates to 1887 when Michigan students traveled to South Bend to teach Notre Dame students the game. The game has featured exciting games, standout players and feuding coaches from schools 150 miles apart that are both coming off easy opening victories.
Michigan defensive end Frank Clark doesn’t like what’s happening.
“That’s one of the big rivals. You got Notre Dame-Michigan. You got (Michigan) State-Michigan. You got Ohio (State) vs. Michigan. For a team to opt out of that contract, and to opt out of playing another team that is a great rival and is one of those great games, it’s almost like a slap in the face,” he said. “We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to get the job done.”
In 2007, the two schools announced they would play annually through 2031. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said he was blindsided when Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick handed him a letter before the 2012 game informing him Notre Dame was ending the series. Brandon said he didn’t read the letter until riding back to Ann Arbor.
Swarbrick, though, said Brandon knew the notice was coming, saying he told him in a phone conversation. Swarbrick said it was necessary because Notre Dame had agreed to play five games a season against Atlantic Coast Conference teams when it joined the league in most other sports while staying independent in football. Swarbrick said Brandon told him that when he received the letter it would become public quickly because of public record laws.
“I said, ‘Let me think about that, whether it makes any difference.‘ I talked to some people here. I walked up to him on Saturday and told him, ‘I’ve thought about it. I still have to give you the letter,‘ and I handed it to him,” Swarbrick said.
Swarbrick said the university had to get some games off its schedule and the Michigan contract had an automatic rollover provision with a year being added each time a game was played. He said Michigan insisted on that rollover provision.
“They were worried about the impact of a ninth game in the Big Ten schedule so they wanted the flexibility to end it if they needed to,” he said.
It’s not the first time the series was abruptly ended. In 1910, the year after Notre Dame beat the Wolverines for the first time, Michigan canceled the game the day before the game, claiming the Irish were using ineligible players.
In part because of a feud between Knute Rockne and Fielding Yost, the two schools didn’t play again until 1942, and then it only lasted two seasons.
The series didn’t resume again until 1978, but quickly rekindled the rivalry. The final game has become a hot ticket, with prices running $300 or more on Stubhub.
Players on the 17th-ranked Irish say they will try to avoid the hoopla this week.
“I don’t think I get into all the hype of it around here,” quarterback Everett Golson said. “But at the same time, you have to take care of business and prepare. Michigan is a great football team, so it’s going to be a tough one. But we’ll be ready for it.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and Michigan coach Brady Hoke stoked the fire last year. Kelly initially said he didn’t see the game “as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” going on to call it a “big regional game.” He flip-flopped two days later, calling it “a great and historic rivalry.”
Hoke accused the Irish of “chickening out” of the series. After the Wolverines beat the Irish 41-30 last season, Michigan played the “Chicken Dance” over the stadium sound system.
Hoke said Saturday he’s disappointed the series is ending.
“It’s always been a great football game. Always. Bo (Schembechler) would say, it kind of lets you know where the team was early in the season because of the similarities of the athletes on the field. I just think for college football, it’s a great rivalry. The significance of being the last one down there, yeah, there’s significance to it,” he said.
Kelly said what rankles him is losing three times in four games against the Wolverines, who have won six of the last eight games.
“I don’t like losing, so I’d say that I don’t want to lose to Michigan,” he said.
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Michigan, contributed to this report.