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Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly threatens not to play in College Football Playoff

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Friday that if the Irish are chosen to make the College Football Playoff, they would consider not playing if families are not allowed to attend the semifinal game.

During a Zoom call previewing the ACC championship game, Kelly made pointed remarks about the need to have families attend the games.

“I’m not sure we’ll play in the playoffs if the parents can’t be there,” Kelly said. “Why would we play if you can’t have families at the game? If you can’t have families at bowl games, why would you go to a game where your families can’t be part of it? What’s the sense of playing a game in an area of the country where nobody can be part of it?”

The issue of attendance at the semifinal sites came to the forefront this week, after the College Football Playoff said it expected to keep one of the sites at the Rose Bowl, as scheduled.

“Maybe they [CFP] 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.”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly

The problem with that site in particular is that Los Angeles County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer told ESPN last month that sporting events, including pro and college football, will “remain spectator-free” after the county announced a stay-at-home order.

Kelly said he would be in favor of the Rose Bowl being moved to another site entirely.

“Why can’t it be the Rose Bowl in Las Vegas or can it be the Rose Bowl in another town?” Kelly said. “Where’s the flexibility for the student-athlete is all I’m saying. The one thing these kids have been is incredibly flexible, and then on the other side we can’t be flexible? It’s hard to imagine.”

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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it would be a “poor decision” and a “mistake” to keep a playoff venue where parents and families cannot attend.

“It makes no sense to me to put a bunch of kids on a plane and fly them all the way to California to play in an empty stadium,” Swinney said. “That makes zero sense when you have plenty of stadiums where you can have fans and, most importantly, you can have families. It should be the same for all four teams as far as the opportunity that you have. This year everybody has had to make adjustments. To me, that would be a simple one to make.”

CFP executive director Bill Hancock said on Friday that they are hoping California will ease its COVID-19 stadium restrictions and allow players’ families to attend the game in Pasadena.

“Maybe they [CFP] 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,” Kelly said. “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.

“Somebody’s got to wake up in that room and figure this out or you might as well call this the professional league. 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.”

Kelly said the ultimate decision about what to do would come from his players.

“The players, they drive this,” Kelly said. “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. 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 we’re selected to be a part of it, this will then be No. 1 on their radar, so then I’ll have to address it with our leaders as to how they feel about this.”

Kelly said Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has been involved in conversations as part of the CFP management committee and has made their position clear.

As to why the game has not been moved out of California with CFP Selection Day set for Sunday (noon ET, ESPN), Kelly said, “We’re worshiping the ashes of tradition. That can be the only reason.

“Nobody’s going to trade out this year for next year. Next year’s going to be a revenue-producing year. 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. I’m just making it clear that if our team is selected, the next issue will be let’s make sure that the student-athletes get their families in to watch them play.”

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, however, said that the tradition of the Rose Bowl is important to uphold.

“The Rose Bowl has a rich tradition, hosting 107 consecutive games. I strongly believe it’s important for us to maintain this historical and iconic event for our student-athletes, their families and our fans around the world to embrace and enjoy the game,” Warren said. “This is a complicated situation. I know the parties involved are working hard to find a fair and safe solution that protects the event, but also provides families of our student-athletes with opportunities to watch them play.”

ESPN’s Heather Dinich contributed to this report.

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