Michigan announces historic night game in the Big House against Notre Dame in 2011

BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Writer
Published March 18, 2010

The Michigan football team will make history on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011 when it takes the field at 8 p.m. eastern time to play rival Notre Dame in the first-ever primetime football game at the Big House.

New athletic director David Brandon made the announcement about the historic game on Thursday. The game will be televised nationally on either ESPN or ESPN2.

"It's exciting for them as student athletes to be able to perform in front of a lot of people," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "From a coaching standpoint, it's obviously a great benefit in recruiting when the nation gets to watch you play. And I think it's also great for the University, in a sense. You have a three, three-and-a-half hour commercial that shows off the great University and the stadium and our passionate fans. So I think it's a win-win in all areas."

College football teams around the country have been playing night games for a while now, and Michigan has been involved in plenty of games after dark. The Wolverines are 22-11 in games starting after 5 p.m. all-time. And games like last season's close two-point loss to Iowa in Iowa City fuel the excitement for night games for Michigan fans.

Michigan took part in the the first-ever night game in 1944 against Marquette in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sixty-seven years later, the Wolverines will don their home jerseys for a night game.

Brandon started working toward organizing the game a couple weeks ago, and met with conference officials and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick in Indianapolis during the Big Ten basketball tournament last week. When he returned, Brandon said, University President Mary Sue Coleman and her staff were very cooperative.

"For us, obviously, this is an experiment," Brandon said. "This is the first time we've done it. Hopefully we'll just get better and better at it. If all goes well, we'd love to have at least one game a year scheduled at night at Michigan Stadium. It would be a terrific tradition to start."

Though Brandon and the Athletic Department are noticeably excited about the nighttime game, reactions were mixed from Michigan season ticket holders.

Mark Schostak, a Michigan football season ticket holder, said he feels the matchup brings a lot of intrigue to the Big House.

"It adds an interesting element," Schostak said. "It’s something different. It’s not just an ordinary Saturday afternoon football game."

But for Tara Beickmaun, who has had season tickets for 35 years, the concept of a nighttime game breaks too much from the traditional mold that has made Michigan football what it is today.

"It’s not what Michigan football has usually been about," Beickmaun said. "But I guess times change, and you’ve got to change with them ... I think people like to have fun after the game and it’s kind of late on Saturdays for that. I still like the afternoon; I like being out in the sun. I think it’s kind of nice. When I think of night games, I think of southern universities. It’s never really been part of my experience."

Students, however, proved to be more in favor of the late Saturday start time.

"I think it would be cool," LSA junior Dave Bushart said. "I always wondered about what it would be like, and I think it would be sweet to go to."

"It'll generate a lot of excitement for the crowd at the Big House," LSA freshman Hector Acosta added. "You see crowds at Penn State for night games, and it creates a fun atmosphere.

Notre Dame and the Wolverines will continue to build their rivalry with the historic matchup. The two schools met three times in primetime between 1982 and 1990. In all three of those contests both schools were ranked in the top 25. Michigan lost each game by six points or fewer in South Bend.

Officials have previously announced that the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish will continue their series through 2017, then each team will take a two-year break from playing each other, and will return to face off again in 2020.

Michigan played in one of its most exciting games of the 2009 season against Notre Dame in the Big House. It was a game that went back and forth and culminated in a game-winning drive and last-second touchdown to seal a win for the Wolverines. The next time the Fighting Irish come to Ann Arbor, the two schools will be playing at night, under the lights.

"I think it's a part of what creates a big, exciting atmosphere in college football," Brandon said. "I think to play those games, if you listen to the coaches, the players, and just as a fan, I know that being out there under the lights, in primetime, in front of a national audience is something special. And we want to be a part of things that are special at the University of Michigan. So I'm pleased and proud that we are doing this."

-Daily Sports Editors Joe Stapleton, Chris Meszaros and Ryan Kartje contributed to this report.