Notre Dame’s athletic director Jack Swarbrick does not know whether the 2020 college football season will start on time or be postponed due to the impact of COVID-19.
But when the match finally starts, Swarbrick doesn’t want them to happen in an empty stadium.
“I don’t see a model where we play, at least a number of matches, in a facility where we don’t have fans,” Swarbrick told ESPN. “Campus football is about cheerleaders, bands and the campus environment on match days. We are interested in solutions that allow us to have the experience of traditional match days.”
The college administrator and several conferences are discussing potential modifications this season if they cannot start on time at the end of August. Proposals include eliminating some non-league matches and starting the season in the late fall and continuing to 2021, or not starting the season until 2021, which can increase the chance of having fans in the stands. Major professional leagues both in the United States and other countries are considering whether to have a game without a fan presence.
Swarbrick, who participated in the biweekly call with the ACC athletics director, knew that schedule adjustments were possible but opposed the idea of playing a full season in an empty stadium.
“There may be a middle ground where you say, the first two matches of the season, you might have to make some accommodations,” he said. “Maybe you only have students present and you don’t invite other fans. I can’t see us passing a very limited example of that.”
Other ACC athletic directors such as Miami Blake James and Boston College Martin Jarmond noted the unique impact of college football games for students and surrounding communities.
“A lot happened on the football weekend,” Jarmond said. “This is an economic stimulus for the whole community. It’s not just us or the athletics department. It’s a larger eco system that has an impact on football on Saturday. Think about Columbus, Ohio, on football Saturday. Think about Gainesville [Florida] in football Saturday. So I think it will start to take more. This is a little different from the NCAA tournament. It was a financial hit, it was a big problem, students lost opportunities for life, it was difficult. But that doesn’t have as much impact on the community as a soccer match. “
James said that moving the season to spring was “a conversation we must have” if it ensured students and other fans could be present for the game.
Swarbrick and other administrators also monitor how countries respond differently to coronavirus outbreaks. Notre Dame is scheduled to open the 2020 season on August 29 against the Navy in Dublin, Ireland. Ireland is also set to play games in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and California, in addition to their six games in Indiana.
“How can college football operate if several states are in a position where they are not ready to allow college football to be played, but other countries are located? Swarbrick said.” My feeling is everyone should be able to leave. There is no very interesting version of this where you say, ‘Yes, schools in 30 states will start the season and another 20 will not.’ “
Andrea Adelson from ESPN contributed to this story
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