With the status of the 2020 college football season up in the air amid the coronavirus pandemic, Notre Dame finds itself in a unique position.
While we’re still seemingly several weeks away from any substantive decisions surrounding the start of the season being made, the possibility of individual conferences forging ahead separate from other conferences has surfaced. Responses to the virus have varied from region to region across the country, so it’s possible that schools in the SEC and Big 12 could return to the field while schools in the Pac-12 could take a more cautious approach.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, operates as an independent with no conference affiliation other than a scheduling agreement it has with the ACC. If schedules are altered to a conference-only format, where would that leave Notre Dame (and other independent programs)?
In a video call with reporters on Tuesday, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he is not worried and “very comfortable” if things go in that direction.
“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 schedule with the same number of games other teams play,” Swarbrick said per Rivals.com.
Notre Dame is scheduled to open its season against Navy in Ireland on Aug. 29, a game that is still on the schedule as of now. From there, the Irish have games against six ACC teams, two from the Pac-12 (Stanford and USC), one from the Big Ten (Wisconsin), one from the SEC (Arkansas) and one from the MAC (Western Michigan).
Swarbrick is a member of the College Football Playoff Management Committee, so he is part of regular calls with conference commissioners. Swarbrick said a “conference plus one” model — where teams play their conference schedule and one non-conference game — has been brought up in some of those conversations as a way to protect inter-conference rivalries in college football. Notre Dame, of course, has a few of those, plus a neutral site game at Lambeau Field against Wisconsin it would love to see come to fruition.
“There are so many great conference games, traditional rivalries that occur among schools,” Swarbrick said. “Great rivalries in Florida, for example. 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. We’ll have to see how that evolves.”
The goal for all officials across the sport is a uniform solution so the college football season can take place as we all anticipated. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said Monday that the next six to eight weeks will be “paramount” in determining a return-to-play approach. In the meantime, any and all options will be considered.
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