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Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly Threatens To Boycott CFP If Families Can’t Attend

Ross Everett
by in NCAAF on
  • Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is at least posturing that the Irish might consider not playing in the College Football Playoff if families can’t attend.
  • One of the CFP semifinals is scheduled for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where COVID-19 regulations would likely preclude families from attending.
  • The college football bowl season is in disarray as teams opt out and organizers cancel games.

The theme of the 2020 college football season might be summarized as ‘If you ain’t payin’, we ain’t playin’.” Although no one has the temerity to come out and say that as teams ‘opt out’ of bowl appearances and organizers cancel some of the marginal games that is clearly the message. Why else would a 5-6 team want to drag themselves to some flyover country hellhole to play in the Stay-Free Maxi Pad Bowl or some such?

Until now, the ‘party line’ for teams opting out of bowls is that players have ‘suffered and sacrificed’ and need ‘time with family’ more than they need to play in a marginal bowl game. That sounds good but more than likely the absence of fans meaning lower revenue meaning smaller payoffs has more to do with it than Junior pining away for time with Mom and Dad. Virginia Tech ended the longest active bowl streak in the nation–27 years–and used this sob story as justification–in the words of head coach Justin Fuente:

“Our players have decided not to play [in a bowl] and I’m going to support them 100%,. I think they’ve sacrificed enough.” 

Wait–it gets better. It sounds like Notre Dame isn’t too excited about dragging their team across country to play the College Football Playoffs in the Rose Bowl where they’ll likely get eviscerated by Clemson or Alabama. Instead of just saying so, however, Irish head coach Brian Kelly is playing the ‘it’s all about family’ refrain in a new way. Kelly is at least intimating that he would consider not playing the CFP if parents and families can’t be in attendance.

As of now, there are no plans to move the Rose Bowl from Pasadena where local regulations would preclude fans from attending. This includes friends and families of players and coaches and to hear Kelly talk about it that’s just not right:

“If not sure if we’ll play in the playoffs if parents can’t be there. Why can’t it be the Rose Bowl in Las Vegas? Why can’t it be the Rose Bowl in another town? Where’s the flexibility? The one thing these kids have been is incredibly flexible.”

In a classic moment, Coach Kelly accused the CFP of being beholden to ‘the ashes of tradition’–something that would never happen at Notre Dame:

“We’re worshipping the ashes of tradition. They’re not thinking about the student-athlete, and that’s the issue.”

Yep, it’s all about the student-athlete.

Although there has been some discussion of moving the CFP semifinal out of SoCal as of now nothing has been decided. One plan would be to play the game–presumably still called the Rose Bowl–at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It would result in the Rose Bowl not being played for the first time since 1915 and that’s presumably the ‘tradition’ that Kelly is bunged up about. The Rose Bowl has requested a waiver from local COVID-19 restrictions which they won’t get. CBS Sports quoted an unnamed source who repeated the blather about families and student-athletes:

“It’s going to be an interesting discussion. We’ve had some discussion already. You’re yanking a game. … It really comes down to the families, if they can attend.”

As of now, word is that the game will not be moved and Coach Kelly has an issue with that:

“Maybe they need to spend a little less time on who the top four teams are and figure out how to get parents into these games because it is an absolute shame and a sham if parents can’t be watching their kids play. My kids have been on campus since June. They haven’t seen their families very much at all. They’ve had to fight through COVID, some of them have had COVID. They can’t be around their families for Christmas, and you’re going to tell me we’re going to have a playoff and maybe one site can have families and the other can’t? Please.”

Maybe Coach Kelly should ‘spend a little less time’ on lobbying for a game in a venue of his liking and ‘figure out how’ he’s going to stop a snarling, revenge minded Clemson team with a healthy Trevor Lawrence back under center? Always the pragmatist, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney equivocated on the whole thing:

“There are plenty of venues. If it doesn’t work out (to have fans at Rose Bowl), punt and push it to next year. You try to have fairness for the four playoff teams. There are plenty of venues where you can have fans and an atmosphere for players that have worked so hard all year.”

Kelly could be banking on the fact that the CFP would rather have one of the sport’s most lucrative brand names best teams in a challenging 2020 season play than sit out due to COVID-19 restrictions at the venue. Or else it’s a money decision that the school wants to play off as them ‘taking the moral high ground’.

So far there have been 12 cancelled bowl games and at least one relocated to a new venue. Don’t be surprised to see more cancelled next week. Assuming no further cancellations, the bowl game schedule will begin on December 21 with the tradition laden Myrtle Beach Bowl in Conway, SC. This will be followed by the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on December 22. In addition 15 teams have opted out of playing in a bowl game.

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