Life is pretty good for Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The school has found a stable home for its Olympic sports in the ACC; saved from toiling in the relative obscurity of the new Big East or the American Athletic Conference. Beginning this year, Irish football will have access to the ACC's bowl lineup for when the program inevitably falls short of its lofty BCS/CFP expectations and gently lands in the conference's best non-playoff bowls. The football program even gets an assist with its scheduling -- guaranteed five games a year vs. ACC opponents -- in a time when the five power conferences are currently at or are moving towards a nine-conference game scheduling model, or, for the ACC and SEC, an eight-game model with a promise of playing at least one other power conference team annually (a de facto nine-game schedule).
That's all well and good, but you'll forgive Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly if he isn't over-the-moon about the Irish's partnership with the ACC. You see, Notre Dame football is set to lose traditional, Midwestern-y rivalry games with Michigan and Michigan State in favor of new ones with schools like Wake Forest and Louisville. And that just doesn't sit well with Kelly, who's "been in the Midwest" (born in Everett, Mass.).
Kelly recently joined Bruce Feldman's podcast to mourn the loss of the Michigan and Michigan State series; basically placing the blame on the Irish's five-game scheduling deal with the ACC. Cue the world's smallest violin.
All I can do is voice my ... you know, as a football coach, especially one that's been in the Midwest, I love the ability to play Michigan and Michigan State and the tradition of it. But the reality of it is, you know, for our athletic department to enter into the agreement with the ACC, we have to give up a little bit from a football perspective relative to scheduling. To make our athletic department whole relative to soccer and lacrosse and basketball, that ACC agreement was absolutely crucial for our athletic teams.
Football had to give up a little bit relative to flexibility and scheduling by taking on a commitment with the ACC. Therefore it's put us in a very difficult situation scheduling and unfortunately, it's taken some of those schools like a Michigan or Michigan State off our schedule. Because we're gonna keep Navy. We're gonna keep Stanford, and we're gonna keep USC. Those three schools are not coming off and those are etched in stone. So now, add your ACC schools with those three schools and you're really limited to where you can go.
What is ironic about Kelly's comments is that scheduling for every power conference program is about to get that much more difficult; not just for Notre Dame. All five power conferences will soon play three-fourths of their schedule against other power conference teams. A few power conferences like the Big Ten set the conference schedule before they allow programs to set their non-conference obligations; the effect of which squeezes non-conference games into the first three weeks of the season or during a bye week in the middle of the conference schedule.
Notre Dame was likely going to schedule a number of ACC opponents to fill the scheduling void between early-season meetings with traditional Big Ten opponents Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, and late-season meetings with its intersectional Pac-12 rivals Stanford and USC anyway. You had to think that more than a couple ACC opponents would fill the middle of the Irish's schedule every year -- games against Boston College, Pitt and Georgia Tech, among others. Certainly, Notre Dame doesn't want for non-conference scheduling partners, but the options becoming increasingly limited in light of power conference consolidation and all of those conferences playing what amounts to a nine-game conference schedule. That is, unless Notre Dame is content to face MACrifices and service academies during that middle seven-game stretch of the season, in which case, whatevs.
Really what we're talking about here is an obligation to play at most two more ACC opponents annually. Frankly, that seems like a small price to pay relative to what Notre Dame receives in return from its partnership with the ACC.
So you'll forgive me if I don't feel the slightest bit of empathy for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish's scheduling "plight." If annual games against Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue were so important to the school, perhaps the Irish would have been better off going all-in with the Big Ten. And maybe, just maybe, that would have been enough to pump the brakes on Jim Delany's East Coast Manifest Destiny plan and the once-great football conference wouldn't be saddled with two more ostensibly terrible programs added in the name of Nielsen.
Though, credit where its due. Kelly is right about one thing. The Irish's ACC scheduling deal is sure to cause headaches down the road ... for the 14 all-sports members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. With the conference's decision to stick with eight games and added power conference scheduling component, several ACC athletic directors will need to scramble to find non-conference dance partners for 2017, the first year the obligation takes effect, and beyond. It sure would be nice to know which schools will play Notre Dame when beyond the first three years of the agreement (2014-2016).
Knowing how Notre Dame football scheduling works, however, I'm sure the ACC's 14 members will learn when the Irish rotate back onto their schedules soon enough. Say, February 2017?