Notre Dame to halt series with Michigan after 2014 — UPDATED

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News broke this morning from an Associated Press report that Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick exercised an out-clause in the contract between Notre Dame and Michigan to halt the series with the Wolverines after the 2014 season.

That’s three years earlier than planned, when Michigan asked to take 2018-2019 off from the rivalry that was renewed in 1978 and has played annually since 2002. The shift is the first domino to fall after Notre Dame’s move to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

From Larry Lage’s AP report:

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Notre Dame has notified Michigan it is exercising a three-year out in their contract, meaning their last scheduled game against each other will come 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.

There’s been no comment out of South Bend, but Michigan athletics director Dave Brandon was quick to confirm the story.

“The decision to cancel games in 2015-17 was Notre Dame’s and not ours,” Brandon said in a statement. “We value our annual rivalry with Notre Dame but will have to see what the future holds for any continuation of the series. This cancellation presents new scheduling opportunities for our program and provides a chance to create some new rivalries.”

With Notre Dame’s future schedule anchored to five games against ACC opponents, Swarbrick has discussed the challenges of building a schedule in the future. He’s held firm to the Irish’s commitment to playing annual games against Navy, and continuing to keep a West Coast presence, with annual match-ups against USC and Stanford filling that role. Long standing rivalries with Michigan State and in-state Purdue also hold importance to many, and while Michigan is thought of as a traditional Notre Dame rival, the reality is that the teams have played 40 times, with over a quarter of those games coming before 1943.

Notre Dame will play in Ann Arbor on September 7, 2013 and then Michigan will visit South Bend on September 6, 2014.

UPDATE — More information is coming to light on the timing of the decision, including Dave Brandon’s acknowledgment that he received word of the decision from Jack Swarbrick in an envelope on the field before the game on Saturday. According to an AP report, the letter included the following explanation from Swarbrick:

“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. (We) look forward to working with you to ensure that our great football rivalry can continue.”

Swarbrick’s letter is dated a day before the schools met on the field and cites last year’s contract.

“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.”

Notre Dame senior associate athletic director John Heisler released Notre Dame’s reaction to the story.

“Our contract with Michigan has an automatic rollover provision — with a year being added each time a game is played. We needed to avoid the automatic addition of additional games until we can get a better understanding of our available inventory in those years – an understanding that will develop as we implement our five-game scheduling commitment to the Atlantic Coast Conference.”