Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2020

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

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6 JUNE/JULY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL C ollege athletics directors are living in a state of uncertainty with little power to do something about it. The timeline for resuming sports is, more or less, out of their hands. The fate of their fall (and perhaps win- ter) seasons will be determined by decisions from government officials and university presidents. Those will be based on recommendations from health officials, the state of COVID-19 and availability of testing, among other factors. Athletics departments can simply follow the rulings and suggestions. No one can assume college football will get the all clear to start as normal. Ath- letics directors are not infectious dis- ease experts. But they are concerned enough that they have begun musing about contingencies and discussing alternative models for football season. It could start a month late. Or four months late. It could be shortened to conference games. Maybe, in every- one's worst fears, it doesn't happen at all. According to an April survey done by Stadium's Brett McMurphy, 75 percent of Football Bowl Subdi- vision (FBS) athletics directors who responded believe the season will be truncated or delayed. Which means there will be games to move — or possibly cancel. One commonly discussed model is a sea- son in which teams play only confer- ence games and get rid of their non- league schedules. However, that's not as complica- tion-free as it sounds. College football is not run by one governing body. There is no decision- maker who speaks for all 130 FBS institutions, or one person who sets all the schedules in a neat algorithm. Schools that signed contracts for non- conference games would be left to sort them out themselves. HOW WOULD NOTRE DAME BE AFFECTED? The outlook isn't as bleak as the basic surface assumption that if leagues decided to eliminate non- conference games, then Notre Dame is stuck without a schedule. But the program's independence puts it in a bizarre, unpredictable spot. It has games from six conferences on the schedule, potentially leaving it at the mercy of more decisions than most. Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick, though, remains confident Notre Dame could piece together a sched- ule even if it takes a few hits. "We're very comfortable that if it goes that way, we'll be fine and we'll be able to play a high-quality, full sched- ule with the same number of games other teams play," Swarbrick said. In discussions with other athlet- ics directors and conference commis- sioners, Swarbrick has advocated for a "conference plus one" model if reductions are necessary. It would mean teams play a conference sched- ule and one out-of-league game, which in many cases are more impor- tant than some conference contests. The ACC and SEC, for example, have four yearly non-conference rivalries. Iowa and Iowa State fans care more about the Cy-Hawk tro- phy than a league game against Maryland or TCU. One-off neutral- site games and home-and-homes are some of the most anticipated games each year. This year's slate of those includes Ohio State at Oregon, Mich- igan at Washington and Wisconsin versus Notre Dame in Green Bay. "There are so many great non- conference games, traditional ri- valries that occur among schools," Swarbrick said. "Great rivalries in Florida. Clemson-South Carolina. You protect those and build your schedule around conferences. We would love Wisconsin to still be able to play Notre Dame at Lambeau Field, or Arkansas to still visit." That valuable out-of-conference game, for a lot of Notre Dame's op- ponents, could be the Fighting Irish. For playoff contender Clemson, a Nov. 7 trip to South Bend represents a chance for a résumé-building win. The Irish are expected to be one of Wisconsin's strongest opponents, too. For Navy, Stanford and USC, it is an annual rivalry. (It's also worth noting USC opens with Alabama). Even for Western Michigan, the guarantee game and expected blow- out at Notre Dame scheduled for Sept. 19 has value — perhaps more than finishing a series with Syracuse or starting a home-and-home with Cincinnati. Notre Dame will pay $1.175 million to host Western Michi- gan, a sum the Mid-American Confer- UNDER THE DOME CONTINGENCY COMPLICATIONS What happens to non-conference contracts — and Notre Dame's schedule — if those games are canceled and football season is adjusted? No one can assume college football will get the all clear to start as normal, with a truncated season and no fans in stadiums each being on the table. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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