Brian Kelly: There Will Be A Football Season, Timing Of It Is Big Question
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly sung refrains of optimism about a college football season right when COVID-19 forced a mass shutdown and suspension of sports, leaning on football’s benefit of having time to wait out the worst of the pandemic. He is sticking to it now amid shrinking time and spiking cases that have cast doubt on the viability of playing this fall.
“We’re going to play football this year,” Kelly said on ESPN’s “Get Up” Wednesday morning. “It just depends on when we’re going to play football.”
It’s hard not to offer that catch even when dealing in positive thoughts. The Ivy League and Patriot League, two Football Championship Subdivision conferences, have already canceled fall sports seasons. And as a delayed fall start or no fall season at all becomes more plausible for the Football Bowl Subdivision, the once-preposterous idea of a spring season seems less a bit less so.
Even Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick acknowledged playing in the spring might have to happen, especially if the MLB, NBA and NHL’s July restarts encounter bumps or are forced to suspend games again. The NFL’s ability to hold training camp and sustain a season this fall will be another data point.
“Everything is on the table at this point,” Kelly said. “I won’t get into the specifics, because I don’t know anyone has a great idea of what it looks like. I know there are some models out there.
“What Jack is saying in particular is the models of the professional teams will give us a better understanding of if we’re going to delay this and try to play in the fall, or do we certainly have to scrap it and put something together for the spring?”
The initial resistance to it was rooted in the endless logistical challenges. Playing a season that ends in April or May slices the typical offseason time in half. Recovery becomes more difficult. Asking anyone to play 20 to 25 games in a calendar year is extreme. An injury that typically costs a player only one season could wipe out two. There are eligibility questions, such as how to handle mid-year enrollee freshmen. None of those concerns have gone away.
And neither has perhaps the most pressing one: the quality of the product.
A spring season would likely overlap with the NFL Draft and rookie minicamp. It would certainly occupy the window used for pre-draft prep, the NFL Combine and pro days. Players that are NFL hopefuls and obvious candidates to depart after a normal fall season would need to choose between playing and having a normal pre-draft process. Mass defections would deprive the game of some of its biggest stars.
“Certainly, those conversations have already taken place with the parents, and agents are certainly talking to them about the eventuality that if season goes late, maybe you should forego your last season,” Kelly said. “It’s already in the minds of some of the players. If this season gets pushed into the spring, it’s in the hands of what the NFL is going to do with the draft.
“If the players who are draft-eligible have an opportunity to go to the NFL and they’re certainly draftable players, they have to look at their future. And that means looking at the draft. If they’re not, they’ll train and get ready to play the season.”
Notre Dame, like many other schools, would feel the pain if some players skipped a spring season. Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could be a day-two draft pick. The same could be said for left tackle Liam Eichenberg, one of five returning starters along the offensive line that are draft-eligible. Those are just the obvious ones.
If there is a spring season, it is hard to imagine it would contain a 12-game schedule and span four months. Conference-only schedules could serve as the best and most flexible plan, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 already adopted that for the fall if the season can be played then.
Those decisions cost Notre Dame three games from its schedule. They’re not likely to be the only conferences that go that route. But the Irish won’t be left in the dust to play a slate of lowly independents in any conference-only format, thanks to their partnership with the ACC. Commissioner John Swofford has said multiple times the ACC will assist Notre Dame in filling its schedule and include it in any conference-only format.
“We’ve had a collateral relationship in football with the ACC and all our other sports are in the ACC,” Kelly said. “That relationship has been a six-game schedule. Certainly Jack Swarbrick has been in contact with commissioner Swofford about adding games to our schedule. Those are ongoing discussions.
“We feel confident the ACC would look toward augmenting those games for us. And as you know, there are a large inventory of games out there. Our phone is ringing off the hook right now with teams looking for games. That’s probably the least of our concerns right now. There are plenty of games to play. We’d just like to play some.”
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