Notre Dame has announced that it will head to the ACC as a non-football member. The Fighting Irish will play five football games annually against ACC opponents and join the league's non-BCS bowl package. SI.com caught up with head coach Brian Kelly to hear his thoughts on the move, from how it happened to what it means for Notre Dame football.
SI.com: What's your take on Notre Dame's move to the ACC as a non-football member?
Brian Kelly: Just as it relates to me and our football program, it gives us the access to the East Coast, which is so important to our base. In our scheduling, we'll look to continue the rivalries that have allowed us access to the West Coast. From that situation, it continues to strengthen what we do as an independent. The big play here for us is the bowl tie-ins. Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, was pretty clear in finding a better situation for us relative to the postseason. The ACC gives us that selection that will be much better for Notre Dame football.
SI.com: So from a football standpoint, establishing relationships with bowls was the biggest issue?
BK: As it relates to football. Certainly there's a great marriage here as it relates to our other sports, whether it be lacrosse, basketball, soccer -- all those other sports. They marry very well. Like institutions, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, there's a great marriage there. If you want to talk strictly football, it came down not necessarily to scheduling -- 'cause we'll schedule anyone in the country, that's not the issue -- but what kind of rotation can you get in their bowl games? Is it better for us to be in the Big 12 for bowl tie-ins, or was it better for us to be in the ACC for bowl tie-ins? You could probably make the case on either end. But where was the better fit for the entire athletic department? It seems as though our president and athletic director firmly believed it was the ACC.
SI.com: How long have you been aware that a move could happen?
BK: Well I think when things in the Big East started to change. You're always going to then begin looking. Conference realignment started last year. Everybody must have had their ear to the ground. I wasn't privy to any of those conversations, but I would think that everybody had their ear to the ground as to what was the best situation for them as it related to conferences.
SI.com: Notre Dame will now play five games against ACC opponents each year. What will be your approach for scheduling the rest of the season?
BK: Well, natural rivalries. I think there's some schools there that make sense for us to continue to play and there's some history there as to why we want to continue to play them. I think our Shamrock Series, which is a game that we like to take to different venues throughout the country, is one that's gonna continued to get played. If you look at that, now you're down to just a few games. Where does that lie? Now there are probably options to play SEC teams, Big Ten teams, Big 12 teams. But I think you can figure it out. If you're talking about five ACC and then there's some rivalry games in there, plus the Shamrock Series, you're left with a few games that will be decided based upon what that schedule looks like.
SI.com: Are you concerned that this move will affect Notre Dame's tradition in any way?
BK: No. Because we stay independent, we continue to play the teams that have been historic in terms of rivalries and we get the opportunity to strengthen our postseason opportunities.
SI.com: How does the move to the ACC affect recruiting?
BK: On the East Coast, we're obviously very strong. We've got players from the Carolinas, Florida, New Jersey. The East Coast has been very strong for us as a recruiting base. It continues to strengthen that. Now we may add some more recruiters in the Virginia Beach area, and maybe we get into a little bit more in the Carolinas. But again, we've gone from coast to coast. I think it just continues to strengthen our base.
SI.com: Finally, I have to ask: Following this move, do you envision Notre Dame ever becoming a football member of the conference?
BK: No, I don't think that's ever been a conversation that I've had. I don't think there's an intention in any way, shape or form for us to give up our independent status. I think if we wanted to give up our independent status, we would have probably already done that. With the shifting conferences in realignment, that would have already occurred. Once we were granted access to the BCS Championship Series, once we were able to have free access based upon where we ranked and we didn't have to be tied into a bowl, it kind of set us in the direction that we ended up today. I think that decision, as to whether we would be in a conference or independent, occurred back in the summer when we had access to the national championship game.