At Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, they play football games on Saturday afternoons. In South Bend, the Fighting Irish host a series of events, which happen to culminate with a football game, that can begin as early as Thursday and stretch into the wee hours of Sunday in some instances.
“We want to make sure that Friday and Saturday are not the Super Bowl,” Kelly said of the distractions that his players endure on home game weekends. “Parents asking for tickets, friends wanting (stuff), you know… I was here last two weeks ago and we had two or three players giving tours (of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex).”
Kelly wants his players focusing on the opponent and their assignments, yet it is a difficult task for a 20-year-old when the families, friends, students, alumni, fans – and in some instances, the university - are creating a sometimes chaotic environment for the days and hours leading up to kickoff.
“We just kind of have to bring that in a little bit,” Kelly said.
The third-year coach altered the time (moved it up an hour to 6 p.m.) of the Friday pep rally, a time-honored tradition at the university, in order to allow his players a little bit more downtime the night before games. But there are certain traditions that he isn't allowed to alter in any way.
“It's been educational for me,” Kelly said. “Here is what is not going away: the pep rally is not going away, Mass is not going away, (and) 'The Walk' is not going away. So how do you manage your day to give them that opportunity to be relaxed so that they can be focused strictly on the football game. We're still evolving there.”
Historically, there is no trend that shows that all of the varying events scheduled for the squad, as well as the other general distractions, result in a lower performance. However, this season the Irish have won their games in South Bend by an average of five points, while dominating (an average of 28 points) away from Notre Dame Stadium.
“I mean there's a lot of layers to the question,” Kelly said when asked about that disparity. “I don't want to make more out of it. I think teams that come into Notre Dame Stadium play their very, very best. We have to match that intensity. And we have to do it each and every weekend, because it is a battle. There's no question. But our players know that, and we're in the process of understanding how important it is to prepare even for our home games in the same fashion.”
Several veteran players have said recently that it is a learning “process” that the Irish players go through in understanding how to manage everything, yet still perform to their potential. Each season it seemingly gets a bit easier. Kelly said he hasn't reached that point quite yet.
“No question, for me and the younger players, we're kind of starting to figure this out,” Kelly said, “where we can come up with a weekend where they're not so distracted.”