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Notre Dame Football: Money Talks, Brian Kelly’s Empty Rhetoric Walks

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I’ve got more than six million reasons why Notre Dame will participate in a fan-less playoff game.

Boston College v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Brian Kelly is the son of a politician. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach knows how sustained public outcry can lead to desired change.

But Kelly took his comments too far Thursday, making an idle threat that he, rightfully, does not have the power to execute if push came to shove.

“I’m not sure we’ll play in the playoffs if parents can’t be there, to be honest with you,” Kelly said in a press conference before his No. 2 team’s matchup Saturday against the Clemson Tigers in the ACC Championship. “Why would we play if you can’t have the families at the games?”

Kelly is likely aware that each team selected for the College Football Playoff gets an estimated $6 million payout, which would be in addition to the regular ACC distribution.

The University of Notre Dame, which held a six hour fundraising campaign just this week for its student athletes, isn’t leaving $10 million on the table.

To me, it’s unclear which entity — Fr. John Jenkins, the Board of Trustees, Jack Swarbrick — has the ultimate say-so. Kelly said it is the student-athletes’ decision and certainly, they have some leverage if they acted in a unified manner.

But let’s be real. The players would prefer to play in front of their families. They deserve to play in front of their loved ones. But I strongly suspect — without knowing for certain — that their desire to compete for a national championship outweigh their desire to play one game in front of mom and dad. (Kelly said Thursday: “The players 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. It’s about their families.”)

The College Football Playoff will be unswayed by Kelly’s diatribe Thursday. While it makes little sense to stage one playoff contest where there can be fans (the Sugar Bowl) and another where government fiat prevents it (the Rose Bowl), the committee is going to do whatever is in its best financial interests.

The committee can invite the Irish to California, and the university — or its players — are welcome to decline. It’s possible the committee can make alternate arrangements with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association and Northwestern Mutual, the game’s sponsor, and I’m sure those conversations are happening. (Rose Bowl officials have made two appeals to their state government to “allow for a special exemption for player and coach guests.”) The Rose Bowl is getting $80 million from ESPN, so they’re not just going to walk away without some concession.

While the committee would prefer to have the No. 2 team in the playoff, it’s not going to let the non-No. 1 team dictate where it plays. And the No. 5 team is certainly willing to take Notre Dame’s place — and its $6 million payday.

I appreciate Kelly voicing his players’ concerns. I agree with his logic regarding fans at one site and not at another. But a savvy politician wouldn’t have threatened a boycott if he didn’t have everyone is lockstep. And, judging by Kelly’s comments, he’s nowhere near there.