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Death to the NCAA

College Football Coaches Are Having A Hard Time Understanding What A Holiday Is

Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers looks on in the first half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

In September, the NCAA mandated that all Division-I athletes would have Election Day off from practice and “countable athletically related activities” such as film review and conditioning. Though the new rule may mess up some game week preparation plans, a fair number of college football coaches welcomed the idea, or were at least tactful enough not to complain. 

The people you’d expect to be upset and unconcerned with pretending otherwise, however, are upset and not pretending otherwise. These football coaches’ complaints, many of them catalogued by the Wall Street Journal today, suggest some shared confusion about what holidays are for.

Dabo Swinney, for example, is annoyed that he can’t hold practice because most Clemson players chose to vote by mail or otherwise “always have the time to go get that done.” Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly agreed, pointing out that his players hail from across the country and wouldn’t be heading to vote at the local middle school anyway. Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley made the additional wise and devastating point that it does not actually take a full day to vote. “To take the whole day to me, I think it’s a little bit of an overreaction,” he said, suggesting that players get a two-hour window instead.

So, you see, the objection here is not to the importance of voting or to participation in the democratic process, only to virtue-signaling baloney stunts that do not achieve anything and, most criminally, mangle the sacred routines of a college football program. As Duke coach David Cutcliffe said in a press conference, after detailing the adjustments he’d have to make to his practice plans, the day off is “a little more showy, honestly—I’ll just say it like it is—than it has purpose.”

Yes! Precisely! Or put another way, the showiness is the purpose. Holidays are not 24-hour windows exclusively reserved for accomplishing specific tasks; they are, by nature, symbols of institutional principle, and they don’t need to be anything more than that. Certainly we could reflect on the contributions of the labor movement for two hours on the first Monday of September before heading into work, but that labor is grounds for the federal government and business activity to shut down for a day enshrines its value.

Perhaps the entire Clemson offensive line voted early or mailed in their ballots, and nothing remains for them to do today. That is only a problem if your approach to life is that of the weirdly blinkered, schedule-obsessed coach who understands an Election Day off to be a logistical concession and not an articulation of what athletes have said is important to them. Unless these same coaches also want to start maligning, say, Memorial Day—because who really needs a full eight hours off from work in order to honor fallen American soldiers?—they would do well to accept that the core concept of all holidays is that some virtues are, in fact, worth signaling.