Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 JUNE/JULY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED F or the last 20-plus years as a sports re- porter, my Notre Dame football game-day routine has been … well, it's been pretty routine, until now. COVID-19 has impacted everything for everybody, and Notre Dame vice presi- dent and director of athlet- ics Jack Swarbrick is tasked with navigating his stu- dent-athletes, support staff and even Irish fans safely through these uncertain and unpredictable times, not any easy assignment while chasing a moving target. "We can spend every hour of every day model- ing and trying to anticipate some of these, but each day brings new information," said Swarbrick, who still plans for an on-time and unedited 2020 football season. "We're trying to find the balance." Most Blue & Gold Illustrated read- ers have attended a football game at Notre Dame Stadium. So, let's take a step back, revisit our individual experiences, and together realize how immense the logistical challenges could become this fall on game days for Swarbrick and tens-of- thousand others during this period of social distancing. My personal game day goes like this: • Parked at Innovation Lot — about two city blocks south of the stadium — my 10-minute walk to "work" takes me through large gatherings of people, all bunched and tailgating to- gether in the Joyce Center Lot. • From there, I move through a small and busy room inside Pur- cell Pavilion to check in for game credentials. • Back outside and lined up at the stadium entrance, my computer bag is opened, handled and checked by security personnel before I'm stuffed into an elevator with about 10 other media members for a nine-story ride up to press level. • Inside the press box, all of us gather around a mutual buffet for a hotdog, some chili and a soda. • Post-game, it's back onto a packed elevator — this time with everybody leaving at the same time — for a trip down to field level. The sidelines are active and crowded, as is the cramped post-game interview room, where Irish players are scat- tered throughout, each with a media mob huddled around them. It's nobody's fault, and Notre Dame will do everything to protect its players and patrons — but proper distancing practices on a game Satur- day are unrealistic, even with added safeguards and health initiatives. "We have to make all those deci- sions relative to the operation to the facility itself," said Swarbrick, who listed stadium entrances, concession stands and tailgate parties as worri- some gathering spots. Swarbrick also suggested that broader seating will be inevitable inside the 78,000-seat sta- dium, if the 2020 season even begins. "What do we want capacity to be?" Swarbrick rhetorically asked, loosely suggesting 50-percent as one possible starting point. "How will we define capacity in the new normal for the coming season?" Several schools from around the country have already announced they will open in the fall and be pre- pared for an on-time start to the foot- ball season. Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins has yet to make such a proc- lamation. Jenkins' decision on whether to reopen for the fall semester — an an- nouncement that will pre- sumably come by the end of June — is significant be- cause the NCAA recently ruled that schools unable to open campus this fall can- not play football. "College athletes are college students, and you can't have college sports if you don't have college [campuses] open and hav- ing students on them," NCAA president Mark Emmert posted May 8, on his Twitter feed. "… So, if a school doesn't reopen, then they're not going to be playing sports. It's really that simple." But what exactly does "open" mean? Some Big East Conference schools are considering a gradual reopening approach this fall that would bring select students back to campus be- cause their coursework is dependent on in-person attendance. Could stu- dent-athletes be granted a similar ex- ception? Each school will face its own unique decisions based on regional and local coronavirus infection rates, and countless other factors. "You can't produce a season where all members are participating in Di- vision I football in the same way," Swarbrick explained. "We just have to take the time to figure it out as we go." Exactly what that will look like, nobody knows yet. The lone certainty is that about 16 weeks from now, if the Irish do open their home schedule against Arkan- sas, my 10-minute walk from Innova- tion Lot to Notre Dame Stadium will look and feel nothing like it has the last two decades. ✦ What Does Football's Future Hold? UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at This year, even if games go on as planned, the college football experience will likely look very different for everyone involved. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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