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Big Ten Divorcing Notre Dame?

By Jacob Shoor
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Notre Dame's football scheduling is about to become more complicated and unsettled than many Irish fans seem to fathom.

Among the many assessments and predictions I have made the past couple of years regarding Notre Dame that has caused certain lips to curl in derision is that before long the football Irish would be playing no more than one Big Ten team per season, and very well could have seasons playing no Big Ten teams.

My reasoning is that the Big Ten's national TV exposure and money are both so huge that no Big Ten school needs to play Notre Dame for either. Couple that with the Big Ten moving to nine league games and needing to play in the South to try to recruit Southern talent better and the need for schools to play seven home games per year for ticket revenue, and you have the recipe for the virtual end of the Irish versus the Big Ten.

ND ended the Michigan series to make way for playing as a 5/8ths member of ACC football. And now Purdue may be ending its series with the Irish. Longtime Purdue Athletics Director Morgan Burke, a Purdue alumnus, has gone public with his doubts about the future of the series.

Notre Dame and Purdue have played 84 times, with the first game in 1896. They have played every year since 1946. The series may be ending, and at least will be disrupted and no longer annual, with the Big Ten's most recent expansion. Not even Notre Dame can prevent conference realignment and resulting schedule requirements and new needs for various programs from disrupting ancient and deeply felt rivalries.

Will Michigan State follow Purdue's lead? That possibility is being parried by journalists who cover the Big Ten. Will that pair explore playing ND two years on and two years off, in effect sharing one slot for the Irish to play the Big Ten? If it could be worked out, that is the most likely best case scenario for keeping alive the only two rivalries ND has with the Big Ten that are based on mutual respect and deep history.

If the Irish-Boilermakers rivalry can end as an annual affair, then the ND-Stanford rivalry can end. It is a mere newborn rivalry compared to ND-Purdue: played only 27 times and annually only since 1997. Stanford does not need to play the Irish for money or TV exposure. Stanford, which already plays nine Pac games, also needs more exposure in the South to help its recruiting and so should be better served playing schools such as Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Vanderbilt, Tulane, Rice, and SMU than in facing ND annually.

What all the above means in a nutshell is that Notre Dame's football scheduling is about to become more complicated and unsettled than many Irish fans seem to fathom. Conference realignment and new recruiting needs mean that several teams the average Irish fan assumes will always be happy to play ND any time ND agrees will now be searching for other avenues to maximize national exposure and improve recruiting. And that goes for long-time rivals.

Again, I say the best answer is for ND to play six ACC teams per year. Before getting to the specifics of that, it should be emphasized that if ND has half its regular season allotted to the ACC, it can play Southern Cal and Navy annually, have a slot for a Big Ten team, a slot for Stanford/another Pac team, and two open slots, one or both of which can be a major football name from an area of the country not covered by the rest of the schedule (Alabama, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, LSU, Tennessee, etc.). Army and Air Force each could be worked in for a series or two per decade.

Playing ND twice per decade is much easier on a school that plays nine conference games than is playing ND annually or even two years on and two years off.

No matter how much ND fans may bleat about wanting to be independent in football and playing all kinds of teams, every program is best served with stability in scheduling. That means having some teams played annually. If ND is going to lose Purdue, Michigan State, and Stanford as annual foes, it needs to secure other annual foes to go along with SoCal and Navy.

The answer is to make Pitt, which ND has played 66 times, an annual rival along with BC. The latter is an even newer rivalry than Stanford, but the Catholic Holy War should be annual. It is good for Catholic high schools football nationwide.

If ND plays two full members of ACC football annually, it then would have 12 teams left to play once each every three years. Three groups of four repeating makes for nice symmetry.

Jack Swarbrick needs to make that move, which will make ESPN happy, which will speed the coming of the ACC network, which will make Irish basketball and all non-revenue sports extremely happy.

Jacob Shoor - Jacob Shoor a Tennessee native and UNC graduate who is now semi-retired and living back in Tennessee after having lived since his UNC days in SWC country and Big 8 country, as well as both SC and NC. Other than ACC sports and SEC football, Jacob Shoor is a fan of the Tour de France, the French Open, and hurling (Ireland's biggest team sport).