Commentary: Not holding CFP semifinal at Rose Bowl is the right call

Referees prepare before a College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Rose Bowl.
The 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl is moving to Texas because of coronavirus restrictions.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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 last 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.

The College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Rose Bowl has been relocated to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, because of coronavirus restrictions.

Dec. 19, 2020

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.


A day after losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, USC announced it will not play in a bowl game because of the risks associated with COVID-19.

Dec. 19, 2020

Kelly and the Fighting Irish must have wanted out of the Rose Bowl so badly they allowed Clemson to embarrass them in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday 34-10. Notre Dame would now be 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 — is likely to 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 would be huge TV draws on New Year’s Day, and no lack of a spectacular sunset will change that.

Notre Dame in trouble?

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.

Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are in, probably in that order. Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Cincinnati are the teams up for debate as the Crimson Tide’s opponent.


I’m not going to get into what should happen. What will happen is that Notre Dame will get the last spot despite its putrid showing against Clemson.

The Fighting Irish have the best resume: They are 10-1, have two good wins (against then-No. 1 Clemson without Trevor Lawrence and on the road at No. 15 North Carolina in dominating fashion). They also have the ability to bring millions of eyeballs to TV screens — the Notre Dame fans will suffer through whatever Alabama has for them, and the rest of the country will watch gleefully if the Irish are blown out.

Trevor Lawrence accounted for three touchdowns, and Clemson avenged a regular-season loss to Notre Dame and won its sixth straight ACC title.

Dec. 19, 2020

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

Texas A&M already had its shot at Alabama and lost 52-24. The committee is very unlikely to set up a rematch. It could make an argument that the Aggies are the No. 3 seed due to playing more games than Ohio State and set up the Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes in a major hype game. But that would be a transparent move, and they’ve already got their ratings gold mine sitting there in Notre Dame.

Cincinnati is an interesting case. If the committee wants to end the notion that a “Group of Five” team will never make the playoff, this is the moment. There is not a surefire No. 4 team, and it could earn some goodwill with the public by giving the little guy a shot.

It won’t happen. The committee has been nudging Cincinnati down the rankings from No. 7 to No. 9.


Notre Dame is too attractive with a justifiable resume and undeniable appeal to the masses.