SOUTH BEND -- Critical questions face the Notre Dame football program.
Should the Irish play a game on Saturday?
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said university officials broached the subject following the tragic death Wednesday of Declan Sullivan when a scissor lift on which he was filming practice toppled over during heavy winds.
There's no easy answer.
What's a proper response to what some perceive as the very preventable death of a bright, talented young man? Decals with his initials on the helmet? Dedicating the game to his memory?
Even Notre Dame, an institution steeped in protocol, doesn't have a proper procedure to deal with grief. Listen to the heart, rather than the turnstiles?
More than 80,000 people have plans to be in Notre Dame Stadium Saturday to watch the Irish play Tulsa. Add to that the audience NBC might coax into watching, despite the ho-hum pairing, dismal Irish record, and last week's channel-turning loss to Navy.
Then there's head coach Brian Kelly's place in the middle of everything. Sequestered from the outside world until after the game, Kelly's response will be pivotal.
Adversity either forges a lasting relationship or drives a wedge that can't be removed. How will the players respond?
Just the other day, Kelly talked about trust being the glue that will keep this team from fragmenting. Will this incident try that trust?
This is the second test of real-life values of the Kelly regime. The first came last spring when recruit Matt James died in a spring break accident with his high school buddies.
Though he never attended a class or played a snap, the Irish treated James like one of their own.
Same with Sullivan. Though the junior filmed the action rather than participating in it, by all accounts the student video worker is being embraced as Irish as Dayne Crist and Armando Allen.
During the stupor following the Navy debacle, Kelly stressed "accountability and responsibility." In the case of the accident, there can't be any of that at this time. All that will have to be sorted out in a thorough and most likely time-intensive investigation.
Thursday, Swarbrick, a skilled arbiter in another lifetime, lawyer-talked his way through the rough patches of his meeting with the media. He tiptoed past: Who made the decision to practice outside rather than inside?
"Every program makes its own decision with regards to practices," he said.
What would football's situation be?
"We're gonna look at all of that as part of the investigation."
He neatly circumvented: Did coaches really continue to practice for at least 15 minutes after the accident?
"All I know was that the players were brought back inside (the LaBar Practice Complex)," Swarbrick said of the accident that happened at 4:51 p.m. "I was outside. That's the extent of my knowledge. I know, within minutes of Brian's return, they left (at 5:15) to go to the Guglielmino building. So, we directed the coaches and players to get back inside. I'm sure the coaches, needing to have the players in there, did what was appropriate."
A wave of relief seemed to come over his face when a question that had to do with football came his way - even if it did have to do with how this team could possibly play a game Saturday.
"All we can do is focus on the players' emotional well-being," Swarbrick said. "For some of them, this will be an important motivation. They'll want to do especially well for Declan. Some may struggle with this and it may impact their performance.
"In all the extraordinary emotions that sort of overwhelmed us in the past 24 hours, thinking about how we're gonna do on Saturday is not one of them. It just doesn't matter. We care about winning and losing here, but it doesn't matter now."
What matters now is finding answers to some very difficult questions.
Staff writer Al Lesar: email@example.com 574-235-6470