Michigan vs. Notre Dame has been one of the biggest rivalries in college football for years. The two midwestern schools have historically been powerhouses, with their early season games being barometers for how good each team really will be that season. The Fighting Irish and Wolverines have played each other 40 times in their history — every year but four since 1978. The rivalry games have had great moments for the Wolverines, like Michigan’s last-second wins in 1986 and 1994 and very recently in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
They first played eachother in 1887, but now it looks like they will play each other for the final time, barring a potential bowl game matchup, in 2014. That is because Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick decided to cancel the games starting in 2015, leading to anger and disappointment from fans on both sides. Despite all of the negative backlash by Michigan fans and Wolverines coach Brady Hoke having claimed that Notre Dame was “chickening out,” the end of the rivalry isn’t all bad for Michigan.
Ever since the two programs started playing each other every season — pretty much — in 1978, they have alternated the host each year. For Michigan, that meant losing a home game every other season to go play in South Bend. Obviously, home games are very valuable for a big football program, as Michigan makes upwards of $6 million per home game in revenue. Every road game simply loses revenue for the program. In years that Michigan had to travel to Notre Dame, they had just seven home games, instead of the maximum possible number of home games: eight.
But when Big 10 conference schedules increase to nine games in 2016, the importance of non-conference games being at home will be even more essential. In theory, with nine conference games, every other year Michigan will have four conference home games. That means that even if all three non-conference games are at Michigan Stadium, Michigan will only have seven home games. If Michigan had to travel to Notre Dame, they would only have six home games, resulting in over $10 million in lost revenue. On the football side, Michigan would have just two slots for easier opponents remaining with nine conference games and one against Notre Dame each season.
So while Notre Dame is being blamed for ending the rivalry, Michigan shouldn’t be too upset. No Notre Dame on the schedule gives the Wolverines more flexibility in both who they play and how to maximize revenue. Michigan can experiment more with the likes of last season’s opener against Alabama at Cowboy Stadium and not worry as much about lost revenue.
Michigan vs. Notre Dame has been a fun, competitive rivalry for many years now, but at some point lost revenue is too prohibitive. Michigan would be losing money if the Notre Dame games continued through 2016, when the nine-game Big 10 schedules go into effect, and would be playing ten difficult games out of twelve, a gauntlet that would make an undefeated championship run very difficult.
If that doesn’t convince Michigan fans that losing Notre Dame as a rivalry game isn’t so bad, at least they can focus even more of their hatred on Ohio State. Right?
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter at @alexdaleCFB.