Mike Kelly Talks 'Cuse in the ACC

The instability created by just a few schools during conference realignment has led to unprecedented change in college football. Syracuse was in the forefront of that change, announcing their decision last fall to leave the Big East and join the Atlantic Coast Conference. CuseNation.com had the opportunity to speak with ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Mike Kelly at length about the process.

Syracuse's decision to leave the Big East and join the Atlantic Coast Conference was one that was met with varying opinions. Certainly it seemed to be in the best long-term interest from the school's perspective. CuseNation.com spoke with ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Mike Kelly to discuss their perspective on the move and much more.

"Clearly the overall excellence in terms of the combination of academics and athletics makes it a good fit for our overall conference profile," said Kelly regarding Syracuse and Pittsburgh. "Their geographic locations fit very well in terms of really giving us an opportunity to stretch all the way up and down the Atlantic seaboard.

"We already stretch from Boston to Miami, but this allows us to fill in a little bit more which is fantastic. Again, just having athletic departments that are so successful in so many ways, even more than they do currently, such a long standing tradition of success. Our folks just thought it fit so well and it just made a lot of sense."

The ACC did a commendable job keeping their discussions on expansion out of the media - something that is difficult given the 24-hour news cycle in today's society and the emergence of social media.

"With so much attention on just about everything, in particular in the sports world and all aspects of our culture today, it's very hard to do that," explained the associate commissioner. "But that's just a credit to our commissioner and to our overall leadership in terms of being mindful and always prepared.

"Upon coming to a decision, being ready to move as quickly as possible…ultimately, that's what happened last fall."

Given the struggles of the football program in recent years, some viewed Syracuse as a secondary option given that football is the primary revenue driver in college athletics. However, Kelly says the ACC understands the cyclical nature of college football.

"I think our leadership realizes that certainly things do go in cycles," he said. "I think we realize that even in the BCS-era, consistent performance certainly from Pittsburgh, and in the early years strong performance from Syracuse, you see that with the recent bowl appearances and with coach (Doug) Marrone kind of getting things on the right track.

"It certainly is encouraging in that regard. Our leadership knew that any teams that have had that kind of success at one point in time have the ability of doing it again, and they are already going in that direction. And, as you mentioned, both schools traditionally, and more recently, have been among the leaders in men's basketball as well as other sports. Bottom line is it fits in so well with our schools. We understand that with our existing schools sometimes that can go in cycles."

Rivalries are also a concern for the skeptical fan. Syracuse will likely lose rivalries with some of their current conference foes. However, the Orange has the opportunity to renew some old rivalries in their new conference.

"I think we've found a way to make that work very well," said Kelly. "First of all, they've (Syracuse and Pittsburgh) been in a league together for awhile. Part of the rational for allowing them to join the league and become each other's crossover partners in football, at least, was to make sure that tradition continues.

"To allow Syracuse to be in the same division with Boston College allows them a chance to renew that rivalry as well. There's some ability for both schools, whether it's reestablishing playing Virginia Tech or Miami from the previous Big East days. Certainly renewing some opportunities to play someone like Maryland, relatively in the same region, make things more attractive. Ultimately we've stumbled upon the best way to integrate them into the conference, and to allow them to come in together and play each other consistently."

Another concern is losing the ability to play in Madison Square Garden for the men's hoops Big East Tournament year after year. Traveling down south could make it more difficult for some Orange fans to see their team in postseason play. However, Kelly says there have been discussions on changing the venue to a more northern location.

"Sure there has, while we've not ever gone all the way to New York in the past, we certainly have played in the Washington D.C. area on occasion," Kelly explained. "In fact, we are in the midst of starting to receive a number of RFP's (request for proposal) to our bid process for the men's tournament going forward in the future.

"It will be interesting to see what our leadership group determines is best. I think they'll evaluate that a lot this fall. We will get a better feel for that in our fall meetings in October. Whether we would be in a position to make the decision right then, I don't know. But we would fully evaluate them at that time. I think we are very open-minded to moving it around from North Carolina where it is so frequently. Certainly we've been in Florida, in Georgia, in the D.C. area, and I'm sure there will be applicant cities from all of those areas. Who knows if eventually venues from New York or Boston might express interest."

In recent months, Pittsburgh has sued the Big East in order to orchestrate an early exit from the conference. West Virginia has already bought out of their membership. Syracuse somewhat quietly reached an agreement with its conference to join the ACC on July 1, 2013.

Possibly as soon as the 2013 football season kicks-off, Syracuse fans can expect to see the ACC contingent in the Dome once ACC play begins.

Said Kelly, "We can't wait, and without question I make it a point to get to every campus at least once per year. So I look forward to coming to the Dome for both football and basketball, and other things."

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