Tuesday, July 31, 2007

In the Year 2031... | by Jay

The extension of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry to 2031 is welcome news.

The University of Notre Dame and University of Michigan athletic departments announced jointly on Monday a 20-year contract extension in the Notre Dame-Michigan football series, extending the series from 2012-31. With the current contract expiring after the 2011 season, the new contract guarantees that the two winningest football programs in NCAA Division I history will meet annually for the next 25 years.
Fricassée of skunkbear is on the menu for the next 25 years. Pass the pepper. But there are some pertinent followup questions spurred by this announcement.

• First of all, what the hell happened? The series with Michigan went from a two-year hiatus to 25 years in stone in under a week. Heck, the SBT's two top stories this morning are still that ND will be breaking from Michigan for two years to play Oklahoma, and Bill Martin saying that Michigan will be looking for a replacement, too. What happened over the past few days to cause this abrupt about-face?

• Will we play two games back to back in Ann Arbor? Will UM play two in South Bend? As we know, Bill Martin wanted the home & away dates staggered so that Michigan had at least one game among ND and Ohio State at home every year. Did Kevin White agree to help Michigan with their scheduling desires, and if so, who gets the two consecutive home games?

(Furthermore: if we flip-flop Michigan, that means Southern Cal and Michigan are on the same home-away cycle. Can we live with Michigan and Southern Cal on the road in the same year, every other year?)

• Are we still going to play Oklahoma in 2012 and 2013? Remember, Kevin White confirmed the series on July 21st.
White said the Fighting Irish will take a short break from their Big 10 rivals in the future, replacing Michigan with Oklahoma for a two-year period, then facing Arizona State instead of Michigan State for two years.
And Heisler confirmed it in an AP story on the ND-OU agreement.
Notre Dame sports information director John Heisler said his school "has reached a deal with OU" to play the two contests.
On the other hand, while ND was calling it a done deal, OU was decidedly less committal.
Kenny Mossman, Oklahoma's sports information director, said the two schools are in discussions but have not signed a contract, while Notre Dame sports information director John Heisler said his school "has reached a deal with OU" to play the two contests.
Oklahoma's athletic director seemed to agree that the agreement was a verbal confirmation only.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione told the Tulsa World in an e-mail Friday that, "We don't release anything until we have a signed contract." OU senior associate athletic director of communications Kenny Mossman confirmed in an e-mail to the World that "an agreement is in the works." Even though dates are set for the series, the contracts aren't yet finalized, because Notre Dame prefers not to sign contracts until a series draws closer.

"There's no particular reason to do a full-fledged contract until you get closer because by the time you get there, some of the language is going to be outmoded anyway," said Heisler. "We've been doing contracts like 2-3 years out anyway."
So is this happening, or isn't it?

This is the crucial bit. Extending Michigan, while welcome news, isn't exactly a "stop the presses" clarion. (If you think about it, Cancelling Michigan would be a much bigger story). The length of the contract is probably more newsworthy than the team involved.

But if we are indeed playing Oklahoma in 2012 and 2013, along with Michigan and Southern Cal, that gives us three big names at the same time, and it signals a sea change (or least a two-year adjustment) in the mindset of our intrepid schedulers. This puts the highly-touted 7-4-1 model on hold for two years, and makes you wonder why the "no heavyweights" dictum was trotted out in the first place. Oklahoma is definitely a heavyweight. If we sign that contract with the Sooners that is right now sitting on White's desk, then something happened to shake things up. And please, Dr. White, sign...on the line...that is dotted.

Back to Michigan. In the year 2031, I will be 61 years old. Cars will fly on recycled garbage, skirts will be shorter, and Justin Guarini will be entering his second term as "America's President". And Notre Dame will still be playing Michigan.