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Sports >  NCAA

J. Brady McCollough: Not holding CFP semifinal at Rose Bowl was the right call

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 20, 2020

By J. Brady McCollough Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – America will miss that iconic Rose Bowl sunset. But here in Southern California, if we’re really struggling with heartbreak around 5 p.m. on New Year’s Day, we can just hop in the car, drive to the San Gabriels, see it for ourselves and be home hours before curfew. We’re lucky in that way, and here’s to hoping that next year we can all meet up at the venerable venue and watch a football game together.

Until that can happen, we have to use common sense and listen to the science that we’ve learned about the coronavirus in the past nine months. In order for a College Football Playoff semifinal to be played as planned in Pasadena, one or both of those things would have had to be ignored.

Common sense, expressed by Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on Friday, says that college football players from Tuscaloosa, Ala., Clemson, S.C., Columbus, Ohio, and South Bend, Ind., should not have to travel across the country in the middle of a raging pandemic to play in a stadium with no fans, including their families and closest friends.

The science only makes the above scenario more ridiculous. Los Angeles County is now the epicenter of the pandemic, with no intensive-care unit beds available. That should be truly terrifying, and even if the CFP management committee could guarantee that no players, coaches, staff or families would contract the virus on their trip to the West, staging a game in this location at this exact moment in time would be careless given the country’s public health nightmare.

We’ve made a lot of exceptions for sports this year, but not this time. California did the right thing by not bending its latest regulations to allow for families to attend. Why would they say yes to the Tournament of Roses’ appeals? To make sure the “Granddaddy of Them All” at least got its cut of that TV revenue from ESPN, which this week announced Capital One as a new Rose Bowl presenting sponsor?

The CFP answered the questions Saturday night, announcing that the semifinal game on New Year’s day would be moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Rose Bowl officials had to be shocked. They’re not used to being told no. Our nation’s most beloved Granddaddy can be cranky and cantankerous. It doesn’t like change but has begrudgingly fallen in line with hosting Bowl Championship Series national championship games and now a CFP semifinal once every three years. It is trying to stay young, and that means chasing the almighty dollar.

Kelly created headlines by saying he didn’t know whether Notre Dame would play in a Rose Bowl semifinal if parents weren’t allowed.

“Maybe they (CFP) should 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.

Kelly and the Fighting Irish must have wanted out of the Rose Bowl so badly they allowed Clemson to embarrass them in Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, 34-10. Notre Dame is lucky to join No. 1 Alabama as the No. 4 seed at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, where those parents could have front-row seats to their second straight whipping at the hands of a superior outfit.

All ribbing aside, though, it was refreshing to see coaches sticking up for the interests of their players, who care far less about the tradition of the Rose Bowl as 18-to- 22-year-olds than their coaches probably do. Of course, they would much rather have their parents rooting them on, for the seniors possibly one last time.

The second CFP semifinal – it remains to be seen whether the Pasadena City Council will allow the Rose Bowl brand to travel to the new location – will match Clemson and Ohio State, a rematch of last year’s Fiesta Bowl semifinal won by the Tigers.

This college football season has limped to the finish, but the powers that be got their wish. Alabama-Notre Dame and Clemson-Ohio State will be huge TV draws on New Year’s Day, and no lack of a spectacular sunset will change that.

The prevailing logic entering Saturday was that Notre Dame was already in the CFP. But then the Irish found themselves down 34-3, and naturally people started to wonder.

This entire season has been driven by recouping as much television money as possible, and the Irish fit right in with that aspiration.

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