Back in elementary school when my token annoying friend (we all had one) called and wanted me to come over, I'd place my hand over the phone and tell my mom I was about to ask if I could go over to said friends's house, and I wanted her to say no. Sometimes it's just easier making someone else the bad guy than telling a hard truth. Perhaps you know the feeling. I believe Brian Kelly did earlier this week.
Kelly appeared on Bruce Feldman's podcast on Monday and was asked about how Notre Dame's football scheduling agreement with the ACC hampers its ability to play a number of its traditional opponents, namely Michigan and Michigan State. "As a football coach, especially one that's been in the Midwest, I'd love the ability to play Michigan and Michigan State and the tradition of it.
"The reality of it is, for our athletic department to enter into the ACC we had to give up a little bit from a football perspective relative to scheduling," Kelly continued. "To make our athletic department whole relative to soccer, lacrosse and basketball, that ACC agreement was absolutely crucial for our athletic teams. Football had to give up a little bit relative to flexibility in scheduling by taking on a commitment with the ACC."
Sorry, Michigan and Michigan State, the Notre Dame football team can't come over because women's lacrosse has to play Virginia.
Here are the facts of the situation:
1) As Dan Wolken pointed yet yesterday, Notre Dame could have joined the Big East instead of the ACC. Not the American Athletic Conference that the former Big East morphed in to, but the new Big East Conference populated by 10 private and Catholic schools across the Northeast and Midwest. It doesn't have the cachet of the ACC, but it offers a home for soccer, lacrosse and basketball while offering complete independence for Notre Dame's football program.
2) Notre Dame would like to win a national championship in football, and uses its schedule as a vehicle toward that goal. There are more championship-caliber football players in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia than there are in Michigan and Indiana. Playing games in those states increases the Irish's odds of landing said players.
3) The Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 either already or are moving toward nine game conference schedules. The ACC may have joined them without its scheduling agreement with Notre Dame. This makes building a 12-game schedule increasingly difficult.
Kelly went on to say that Notre Dame would continue to play Navy, USC and Stanford on an annual basis. This is partly because Notre Dame values tradition, and partly because Notre Dame has viewed its situation pragmatically. Why is Notre Dame continuing annual games with Navy, USC and Stanford instead of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue? Because playing USC and Stanford puts Notre Dame in California every Thanksgiving weekend, and because Navy lets the Fighting Irish choose the venue in years where Navy is the home team. Notre Dame meets Navy at FedEx Field in the Washington, D.C., metro area in 2014, two years after it opened the season against Navy in Dublin, Ireland, two years after it faced the Midshipmen at MetLife Stadium in the New York City metro area. You get the point.
By the way, Notre Dame is doing the right thing here. A quasi-affiliate membership with the ACC, plus annual games in California and a home-and-choose-your-own-neutral site agreement with Navy is unquestionably the best avenue for Notre Dame's future. But Kelly can't just come out and say that, for fear of aggravating the portion of society that refuses to admit it's not 1978 anymore, so he must dance around it as best he can.
I do believe Kelly genuinely would prefer to continue playing Michigan and Michigan State on an annual basis... if the college football season was 14 games long. But if the choice is playing its traditional Midwestern rivals versus placing itself in the best position to recruit in the 21st century?
Sorry, Wolverines and Spartans, Notre Dame can't come over today.