Early exit by Irish adds insult to injury
Students upset when players leave field on coach’s orders before traditional post-game Alma Mater
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 00:10
Many students’ faces turned Oklahoma crimson Saturday when some football players entered the tunnel before singing the Alma Mater in the team’s first home loss since Oct. 22, 2011.
In a press conference Sunday, Irish coach Brian Kelly said he implemented a policy to not sing the Alma Mater after home losses two years ago, but had neglected to communicate it clearly to some of the team’s younger players.
“I wasn’t thinking about losing a football game,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t on my to-do list to go over with our team.”
Kelly said he decided the team would not sing the Alma Mater after home losses, a change in policy he said protected his players. The football team first joined the student section to sing the Alma Mater under the direction of former Irish coach Charlie Weis.
The tradition of the team joining the student section to sing the Alma Mater after games started during the 2006 season under the direction of former Irish coach Charlie Weis.
“I just don’t think it’s appropriate to put your players after defeat in a situation where they are exposed,” Kelly said. “I want to get them in the locker room. It’s important to be able to talk to them, and I just felt like in those situations after a loss, there’s a lot of emotions. It’s important to get the team back into the locker room and get them under my guidance.”
Senior Ben Finan said most students were also unaware of the policy and reacted emotionally to the confusion over the Alma Mater.
“I was confused. The policy had not been announced previously,” Finan said. “This was something that was not addressed publicly and apparently some of the players didn’t know.”
According to gameday.nd.edu, singing the Alma Mater after all home games is a “stadium tradition.”
The website states, “And whether or not Notre Dame wins, you’ll see the Fighting Irish team approach the student section to sing the Alma Mater together.”
Sophomore Megan Ball said most students expected the team to uphold this tradition and were shocked to see players leaving the stadium. However, she said her opinion of the players who left changed when she learned of the policy.
“I wasn’t aware of the policy not to sing the Alma Mater after a loss so initially I thought it was rude that they were leaving and not singing the Alma Mater with the student body,” Ball said. “I understand that they were told to leave, but at the same time I definitely admire the players who chose to override that policy.”
Freshman Morgan Widhalm said even the freshmen knew something was not right.
“We were really confused because we hadn’t seen many games yet. But … when people started walking out, I know almost everyone in the stands was gesturing, ‘Come here, come here,’” she said. “It was almost like everything I knew about the world was flipped over because that was such a Notre Dame thing and we just didn’t understand.”
Finan said Kelly’s decision to have players enter the locker room immediately after home losses does not respect the players’ dual roles as students and athletes.
“Part of what makes Notre Dame the Notre Dame family is that we treat our student athletes as students and athletes,” Finan said. “… Telling them to go into the locker room tells me that [Kelly] values them as athletes before students and that’s incorrect.”
Senior Jen Gallic said Kelly’s choice disrespects the Alma Mater’s religious component.
“Our Alma Mater is actually a prayer too, so God first,” Gallic said. “‘God, country, Notre Dame.’”
Because of the unifying quality of the post-game tradition, senior Connor Sullivan said she thinks the players are far from “exposed” when they’re singing the Alma Mater.
“For the most part, people stay until the end of the game. Losing a game and being able to as a player stand down there and see that your whole school is still there and is still behind you — that probably is more emotionally stabilizing than going in and having your coach try and debrief you about what just happened,” Sullivan said.
Finan said he feels singing the Alma Mater shows the student body’s support for the players.
“I feel like the players are no better protected ever than when they’re one of us, and it’s one student body, and it’s not that the players are down there and we’re up here,” he said. “He’s basically saying, ‘I don’t want you to be with the student body. I want us to be together as a team,’ and it’s very frustrating.”
Senior quarterback Tommy Rees and graduate student linebacker Carlo Calabrese, two of the team’s leaders, did choose to sing the Alma Mater. Finan said he appreciated their choice to stand with their peers. “I know that if [Kelly] would’ve asked those players about this decision, they would’ve obviously disagreed with him because they felt strongly enough that they were willing to defy his direct instructions,” Finan said.
Senior Matthew Cunningham, president of the Leprechaun Legion, said he personally disagrees with Kelly’s decision. Still, he said he retainss faith in the coach’s motivations.
“If it’s a team policy that they don’t [sing], then that’s just something that I have to accept,” he said.
Cunningham said the student section should not have booed right before the Alma Mater or at the end of the first half when Kelly chose to take a knee with 40 seconds left.
“I don’t think it was right to boo. As Coach Kelly said in his press conference … in his estimation he didn’t think there was enough time to go and get a field goal and he has a better sense of the flow of the game, how his offense is working,” Cunningham said. “As the head coach, I’m sure his players trust his judgment.”
Finan said the students were not booing the players but the coaching staff, even though NBC commentators misinterpreted the situation.
“To take a knee from the 30 yard line says to me, ‘I don’t have faith that you can produce right now,’” Finan said. “I understand that you want to be on damage control, as well, of not allowing things to get worse, but you have to try to win the game, and part of that is picking up the momentum going into the locker room, not just going out.”