ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Notre Dame is opting out of its series with Michigan, meaning the last scheduled game between college football's winningest programs will take place in 2014.
A letter from Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon cancelling games in 2015-2017 was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Brandon told the AP he was handed the letter on the field in South Bend, Ind., about an hour before Saturday night's game.
"I put the letter in my pocket and didn't bother to read it right away because I was focused on the game we were about to play," Brandon said. "I read it on the way home Sunday morning."
The Fighting Irish recently decided to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference in every sport except football and hockey, though the football team will play five games a year against league opponents, starting no later than 2015.
"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."
Brandon said he hopes to work with Swarbrick on another contract to extend the series.
"The ball is in their court because they've triggered the three-game notice," he said. "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."
The Irish beat the Wolverines 13-6 over the weekend in the latest game of a storied series that dates to 1887. They've played every year since 2002 and regularly since 1978 after not meeting from 1944-77 or 1910-41. Michigan and Notre Dame were scheduled to take a hiatus during the 2018-19 seasons.
Swarbrick's letter is dated a day before the schools met on the field and cites last year's agreement.
"Because I am providing you with this notice prior to the commencement of this year's football game on September, 22, 2012," Swarbrick wrote, "there is no liability to Notre Dame for cancelling those games."
The contract has an automatic rollover provision with a year being added each time a game is played, according to Notre Dame senior associate athletics director John Heisler.
"We needed to avoid the automatic addition of additional games until we can get a better understanding of our available inventory in those years," Heisler said in a released statement, "an understanding that will develop as we implement our five-game scheduling commitment to the Atlantic Coast Conference."
By opting out of the contract now, the Irish wind up as the host for two of the final three years of the deal — and will avoid playing at the Big House twice during the final three years.
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said Notre Dame has to do what is best for itself, and must've determined that was to get out of the rivalry.
"Obviously we kind of enjoy and cherish the rivalry," Hoke said Tuesday night. "There's so much history there."
No. 10 Notre Dame (4-0) is in the top 10 for the first time since 2006. Michigan (2-2) started the season No. 8 and has dropped out of the poll after losses to No. 1 Alabama and then the Irish. Both teams have a bye this week.
The Wolverines have an NCAA-best .735 winning percentage in football and the Irish (.732) are second. Michigan leads all-time series 23-16-1.
"Michigan has always enjoyed and respected our national rivalry with Notre Dame," Brandon said. "We understand there have been periods of times that we've had a hiatus to take a couple years off to play other teams and that was something we expected along the way.
"It's unfortunate that it would appear we're going to go a substantial amount of time between games. But that is a decision Notre Dame has made. Our job is to find opponents that are exciting for our student-athletes as well as our fans to replace Notre Dame."
Michigan State expects its long series with Notre Dame to continue with matchups in four straight seasons followed by two-year breaks through the 2031 season. If the Irish, or the Spartans, want to get out of the deal they can pay the other school as little as $150,000 with a two-year notice. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said earlier this month that he doesn't expect Notre Dame's ACC affiliation to affect the rivalry.
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