Notre Dame is less than a day away from playing Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. The winner will almost certainly be invited to the College Football Playoff. Even with a respectable loss, the Irish are a good bet to be one of the four teams selected for inclusion in the sport's premiere showcase in January.
Just getting selected doesn't mean the Irish will participate, however. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly spent most of his press conference today lambasting the College Football Playoff committee for its inability to guarantee that families will be allowed at the Playoff games this season. The problem is the Rose Bowl: California has one of the more severe outbreaks of COVID-19 in the country and is not currently allowing any fans at games.
As of Friday, the CFP Committee is still planning on having one of its semifinals at the Rose Bowl and it might be difficult to change the location this late in the game because of contractual issues with ESPN. Kelly, who said he was relaying concerns his players had expressed, hinted that the Irish might turn down a Playoff berth if they are slated to play in the Rose Bowl and their families are not allowed at the game. The ACC stands to make $6 million if the Irish make the Playoff, to be distributed among the conference's members, so such a decision would have ramifications throughout the league and throughout the sport.
Here is the entirety of what Kelly had to say Friday.
On his frustration at having Playoff games at sites where families aren't allowed: "They've got to figure out how to make sure that whatever sites they play at, that the parents are going to be watching their sons play. That's what they got to figure out. So, 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 here since June. They haven't seen their families very much at all. They've had to fight through COVID, some of them had COVID. They can't be around their families for Christmas. I'm going to have him here for Christmas. I'm going to bring in families that are theirs during Christmas, and you're going to tell me, we're going to have a Playoff, and maybe one side can have families in the other can't. Please.
"Somebody has gotta wake up in that room and figure this out. Well, we just might as well just call this the professional league, because nothing speaks to 'this is just about having a playoff and we don't care about the student athletes.' So, I know I went off on a tangent, but I am so sick and tired of this playoff committee talking about having sites where you can't have parents at and their families. It's ridiculous. Sorry."
On whether the Irish might opt out of a bowl game: "I'm not sure we'll play in the playoffs if parents can't be there, to be honest with you. Why would we play if you can't have the families at the game? So, a bowl game? Yeah we would opt out. If you can't have families at bowl games, I mean why would you go to a game where your families can't part of it. What's the sense of playing a game in an area of the country where nobody can be part of it? It doesn't surprise me at all.
"Look, there's so many sacrifices these kids have had to make and to go to a bowl game where there's no real opportunities for them to do anything, they're going to stay on campus, they may show up at the bowl game 24-48 hours prior to, so there's no real reward. Go home and see your families. You know what I mean? Go home for Christmas. That's the reward really more than anything else than then playing in a bowl game.
"It's just different. It's not the bowl games fault. I get it, we're in a pandemic and there's restrictions and things like that, but we got to think about the student-athletes in this situation. Not having a chance to share this with their families after being away and sacrificing so much, you can see why they wouldn't want to play."
More on whether they would accept a Playoff invitation with no families: "We'll talk it over with our team. The players, they drive this. I don't drive it. I'm echoing their concerns. I'm not the guy out there making this up, because it's not about my family. You know what I mean. It's about their family, so I'm a voice for our team, and they're concerned.
"They're focused on the ACC Championship. That's where their focus is. They're not going to be speaking about these things. But if in fact were selected to be part of it, this will then be number one on their radar. I'll have to address it with our leaders as to how they feel about this, and certainly that will be the next topic that we'll address after the ACC Championship."
On why he believes Playoff games haven't been moved to states with looser restrictions to allow families: "Tradition. We're worshiping the ashes of tradition. I mean, that can be the only reason. Look, nobody's going to trade out this year for next year. Next year is going to be a revenue producing year, so nobody wants to come in and say, 'Alright, we'll take it.' I'm not in that meeting. I can't imagine what push has been applied, but they're not thinking about the student-athlete, and that's the issue.
"Maybe there's deals that have already been cut behind the lines that I'm not aware of that they're going to get the parents in there and Coach Kelly should get off his soapbox and shut up. Hopefully that's the case, but I'm just making it clear that if our team is selected, and we're fortunate enough, the next issue will be, let's make sure that the student athletes get their families in to watch a play."
On the possibility of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee punishing Notre Dame for Kelly's comments: "Here's what I'll say. I'll make it clear. All I've talked about is what the concerns are of my team and we will address it if we're fortunate enough to be one of the teams. If we're one of the teams, then I'll talk to my group and then they'll come out with a statement. It won't be Brian Kelly's statement, it will be Notre Dame and our players and they'll make a statement regarding this.
"I don't know what they're gonna say. They may say, 'Oh, we're glad to be in and this is much ado about nothing.' Or they might say, 'We don't want to play if we can't get the parents in the games.' So, I really can't answer your question until we find out what's going to happen at the selection, whether we're in or not. It's a bit hypothetical.
"If they decide to keep us out, because coach is running his big trap about what he thinks, I probably should get in line with all the other coaches who run their mouth who shouldn't be."