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Game of chicken all about money

– So now the jokes, as Michigan football coach Brady Hoke adds to the tradition of enmity between Notre Dame and the Wolverines:

Why did the chicken cross the road?

(To get to Wake Forest on the other side)

What does “ACC” stand for?

(Any Chickens Coming?)

What does a Notre Dame player do when he sees a Michigan player coming?

(Sings the school FLIGHT song)

And so on, and so on. Cluck, cluck.

And, listen, before the Domeheads rise up in all their righteous wrath, know this: No one’s suggesting here that Hoke has scored a direct hit when he says the Irish “chickened out” of the Michigan series.

A glancing blow, sure. But not a direct hit.

No doubt Hoke has now earned a place in the Notre Dame pantheon of villains, right up there alongside Fielding Yost, Jimmy Johnson and that bleeping placekicker from Boston College. And he’s definitely earned his own niche in the generally grumpy history of Michigan-Notre Dame, which is as notable for its prolonged spats as for its head-to-head meetings.

But we’re talking the present here. And in the present, it’s hard to see what Notre Dame has to fear from a rivalry whose average margin of victory the last three meetings is less than a point.

That’s not exactly Godzilla vs. Tokyo. And when you take into account that Michigan holds a narrow 7-6 edge since the turn of the century, you reasonably can conclude Notre Dame has given as good as it’s gotten lately.

So what’s the trigger mechanism in all this?

Three words: Follow the money.

It’s what everyone in college football has learned to do with amazing dexterity in the past 20 years or so, and few have been as good at it as Notre Dame. The Irish going to the ACC in everything but football and hockey, after all, means extra walking-around money in everyone’s pocket. And from the ACC’s perspective, it lends instant glamor to a conference that has very little before basketball season.

As for Notre Dame ... well, here’s where Hoke at least brushes up against the truth: The Irish do get the likes of Wake Forest (six winning records in the last 20 years) and Virginia (16-21 the last three seasons) instead of Michigan. They get, with five mandated football games against ACC schools, an automatically less rigorous schedule most years.

And, in keeping Michigan State and Purdue and jettisoning Michigan, they get two opponents against whom they’re a combined 102-54-3 all-time, and they shed one against which they’re 16-23-1.

So. Cluck, cluck?

I guess you could look at it that way if you live 2 1/2 hours north and east and use the word “maize” to describe the color yellow. But you know what they say.

One man’s yellow is another man’s maize.

And one man’s poultry is another man’s … business opportunity.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.