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College Football

Brian Kelly Throws A Tantrum, Threatens To Do The Right Thing For The Wrong Reason

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 07: Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly enters Notre Dame Stadium for an interview on a live broadcast of ESPN College Gameday from Notre Dame Stadium before the game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Clemson Tigers on November 7, 2020 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images)
Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images

Brian Kelly’s threatlet (read: we don’t think he’ll actually do it if pressed) to boycott the Rose Bowl if parents aren’t allowed to attend is, among other things, minimally noble, tedious to the point of stupid, utterly self-serving, and stating the obvious. It is the coaching quinella that pays $2.20 no matter how much you bet.

As the head coach at Notre Dame, Kelly has good reason to think he and his players will be in the national college football playoff with Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama, unless Texas A&M snakes the Irish at the end. But having established that (and only that), he decided to rant up about the Rose Bowl and California’s newfound caution over COVID, claiming that if the parents of the players could not fly across the country to attend the game, he would “consider” having his team boycott the game.

See? Pure, unambiguous virtue and courage. Both things college football is very uncomfortable with in any situation that involves money, which of course means every situation there is.

Well, if an empty stadium were in the cards, and it almost certainly is, given the state’s new shutdown orders, Kelly shouldn’t be considering it, he should be announcing it. I mean, if parents are so vital to the process, that should be a standing order. And then, if it means the Fighting Irish skip the game—or don’t make the final four because of the ultimatum—he should be forced to face those same parents and tell them why their sons can’t go either.

Speaking of stupid, he thinks we think he’ll turn down the game. He won’t, at all, under any circumstances. This needs no elaboration save a plea to the committee to deliberately put Notre Dame in Pasadena and call his bluff. Why should he get to threaten his way to New Orleans at the expense of some other subsidiary of Screw The Kids Let’s Play Inc.? This also covers the self-serving part, because like all other coaches he regards parents only as delivery vehicles for the roster. If he wanted them around so badly, he’d have an open practice policy.

But now the obvious. Of course Notre Dame shouldn’t have to go to Pasadena, and neither should any other team. California is back on virus fire, there are almost no intensive care beds available, and the expected spike in cases after Christmas makes any game anywhere deeply problematic. All 34 remaining bowl games should be shut down unless they can each prove that they will not cause any strain to the national health crisis, and of course nobody can do that in any industry. Here is where Kelly is on the side of the angels, only they’re the wrong angels. If only he had said, “We’re not playing anywhere,” or “We’re not playing anywhere where the chances of infection increase,” or “We’re not playing anywhere where we would contribute to the current crisis.”

But no, it’s the Rose Bowl that’s the problem, which has always been a ninja throwing star in the eye of college football’s continued migration east and south. (This, by Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel, lays out the case for burning Pasadena to the ground fairly concisely, if a bit self-righteously.) All games played this year could be properly categorized as judgmental errors, no matter which ones included virus spikes or familial attendance. The season has been a festival of bastardy, all the way up to last night when the Sun Belt championship was canceled because of the thing that is ruining all the Notre Dame parents’ fun. Thus, every game lost ended up being a muted triumph, and the truly correct thing—to have dynamited the season—would have been the kind of noble instinct we can now expect the college sports industry to avoid at all costs.

So go ahead, Brian. We dare you. Do the thing you know you should do and decline the playoff invitation because California isn’t the only place that has the virus, and contact tracing will reveal how bad an idea it is to have parents, or players, or even you and your staff gathering anywhere. Play Clemson this weekend and then bug off because you care about the health of the extended Notre Dame family. Or do what we all know you and all your pals are going to do: defend the money. Money doesn’t catch COVID-19, of course, it just lures and distributes it.

The game will go on, though, so the only fallback position left for rational people is for Notre Dame to be told, “Play in Pasadena, or play golf.” Maybe this puts Nick Saban or Ryan Day or Dabo Swinney or Luke Fickell or Jimbo Fisher or Lincoln Riley or even now-free Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell in Pasadena instead, and maybe someone else (probably Dabo) will whine about the no-parents thing too and threaten to boycott. Maybe the committee will move out of Pasadena and put it somewhere like South Dakota, which has been ringing the carnival bell with its COVID-19 rates for months now. However it plays, someone’s parents will risk a greater chance of infection, and if that isn’t the thing college football stands for now, you’d have a hard time proving otherwise.