So, here we are. Another week wearing masks and social distancing in an attempt to flatten the curve. Here in Indiana, we will be in Phase 3 of Governor Holcomb’s plan to re-open the economy, starting on Friday. As we creep closer and closer to the summer, that means fall football SHOULD be just around the corner.
With states like California and Michigan all but shutdown still, it’s uncertain when the college football season will start and if every program will suit up and play. Perhaps the most telling factor in having a college football season in 2020 is whether or not universities would re-open for in-person classes or stick with online/virtual courses. We finally have some clarity as schools across the country are making decisions. What does that look like for us here in Fighting Irish country?
Notre Dame students to return in the fall.
Well, the University’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced in letters to the campus community that the University of Notre Dame will welcome students back to campus for the 2020-21 fall semester the week of Aug. 10, two weeks earlier than originally scheduled, and will forgo fall break in October and end the semester before Thanksgiving
As you know, In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Notre Dame sent students home in mid-March to complete the 2019-20 spring semester via remote learning. The University also canceled academic and other summer programming through July 6. In his letters, Father Jenkins extended that cancellation through the remainder of the summer, with the exception of a small number of students whose summer work is preparatory for the fall semester.
“By far the most complex challenge before us is the return of our students to campus for the resumption of classes in the fall semester,” Father Jenkins wrote. “Bringing our students back is in effect assembling a small city of people from many parts of the nation and the world, who may bring with them pathogens to which they have been exposed. We recognize the challenge, but we believe it is one we can meet.”
Notre Dame officials have consulted for months with experts on the faculty, members of the infectious disease departments at several leading institutions, a team of medical specialists from Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Mark Fox from the St. Joseph County Department of Health as they work to develop a robust plan to ensure to the greatest extent possible the health and safety of all members of the campus community.
The plan — conceived for students, faculty and staff — will include comprehensive testing for COVID-19, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, social distancing and mask requirements, and enhanced cleaning of all campus spaces. As part of its planning, the University has identified facilities to isolate students who test positive and quarantine students who have been in close contact. Testing, contact tracing and the quarantine/isolation protocols will continue throughout the semester and as long as necessary. The University is developing signage and other communications tools to remind the campus community of health expectations and best practices.
“As we adapt to the new normal brought on by the coronavirus, we will do everything we can to provide you with a safe learning, research and working environment,” Father Jenkins wrote, adding that the University will monitor developments and alter plans should a serious outbreak occur, or should it be unable to acquire what is needed for testing.
To accommodate a return to remote instruction in the event of an outbreak of the virus, Notre Dame faculty have been asked to prepare fall courses with two distinct periods of equal length to allow for a smoother transition, should the University be forced to begin on-campus activities later in the fall or end it earlier than scheduled.
Faculty also have been asked to prepare to offer courses both in person and through remote instruction, the latter of which will allow any student in isolation or quarantine to continue to participate.
Father Jenkins also wrote that the University’s Research Task Force is developing a plan for the safe and gradual re-opening of research labs, studios and libraries in coming weeks. He also reported that Notre Dame International is developing criteria for deciding whether to proceed with study abroad programs in the fall and that a decision will be communicated in June.
“These groups have developed plans and are giving me the information I need to make decisions,” Father Jenkins wrote. “In addition, we have met with a Faculty Advisory Committee. I have discussed with this committee key recommendations of the working groups and shared with them my own thinking.”
Father Jenkins encouraged every member of the campus community “to be flexible and adopt behaviors that will make our campus as safe as it can be. In the new normal we are facing, we will need to ask everyone to accept some inconveniences and adopt behavioral norms and practices necessary to protect the health of every member of our community.”
Glimmer of Hope for Fall Football
This decision gives a glimmer of hope that there will indeed be football this fall. What does that mean for Notre Dame football? On the heels of Notre Dame’s decision to re-open classes this fall, the NCAA recently announced that the NCAA Division I Council has voted to approve voluntary athletic activities in football, men's basketball and women's basketball to start June 1 and go through June 30. There had been a moratorium on that through May 31. Other sports will be acted on at a later date.
This clears the way for players to conduct voluntary on-campus workouts as soon as June 1. The NCAA’s announcement does not guarantee that all college football players can or will return, as players will still be subject to conference, school, or state restrictions. It’s safe to assume that Irish football players could be back training in the Gug as early as two weeks from now. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith already announced that the Buckeye football team will begin voluntary workouts June 8.
Classes in the fall and voluntary workouts in the summer bode well for games in 2020, but stadiums will likely be at half capacity or less. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has hinted at this but nothing has been determined yet. Ohio State athletic director Smith said that his athletic department has run several social distancing models to consider having fans in the stands at games this fall, and Ohio Stadium, with a normal capacity of more than 100,000, would hold a crowd closer to 20,000-22,000 fans and up to 40,000-50,000 "if guidelines are relaxed."
"We've played with that a little bit as a framework to start as we move forward and think about what we'd ultimately be allowed to do," Smith told reporters before later clarifying the low-end estimate in a tweet.
"We're fortunate, with 100,000 seats in the stadium. So could we implement the current CDC guidelines, state guidelines around physical distancing, mask requirements and all those types of things in an outdoor environment and have obviously significantly less fans than we are used to? I think it's possible. I just feel like we have the talent and skill and space capacity to provide an opportunity for a certain number of fans to have access to our particular stadium. Of course, that wouldn't be true across the country because of capacity. But I think we can get there."
With seating capacity of 102,780, Ohio Stadium is the fourth-largest on-campus facility in the nation, according to the school's athletic website. Will Notre Dame do something similar? My guess is yes. Still a lot of decisions to be made before we get to September kick-offs, but there is HOPE. Be safe, wash your hands, and STAY SHARP!