UPDATE: On Thursday, Notre Dame suspended spring football activities and canceled the Blue-Gold Game. Story here.
SOUTH BEND — Blake Fisher had not heard about the potential implications surrounding Notre Dame’s response to the coronavirus outbreak by Wednesday afternoon.
But Fisher, a four-star offensive lineman committed to Notre Dame’s 2021 class, may have to adjust his planned recruiting weekends this spring for March 20-22 and April 3-5.
The logistics of Notre Dame’s spring football practices and annual Blue-Gold Game scheduled for April 18 could be affected should the university intensify its precautions on mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Other universities around the nation and organizations across multiple sports are taking measures in response to the viral outbreak.
Notre Dame will prohibit in-person classes through mid-April, the university announced Wednesday. The university will cancel classes next week after coming off spring break and move to online courses from March 23 through at least April 13.
The Irish are evaluating the situation and preparing for all possible scenarios, including the cancellation or postponement of certain on-campus football events. A more detailed plan stipulating how Notre Dame will move forward is imminent.
“Obviously it wouldn’t be something that I would like to happen,” said Fisher about the idea of recruiting visits being canceled. “I have actually not talked with any of the coaches about the situation yet.”
As government officials restrict or discourage large gatherings, including sporting events, Division I programs continue to respond with precautions of their own.
Michigan canceled its open spring practice and is prohibiting its coaching staff from on- and off-campus recruiting visits through April 21. Kent State canceled its spring football practices and recruiting visits through April 12. The men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournament this month will be played in arenas without fans.
How Notre Dame’s stance evolves, and how that affects media access and on-campus football events expected to occur this spring, will be worth monitoring.
Spring practice No. 2 for Notre Dame is scheduled for next Tuesday. The ensuing 13 sessions conclude with the Blue-Gold Game. Notre Dame spring schedule also includes its annual coaches’ clinic, featuring New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and Los Angeles Rams pass game coordinator Shane Waldron, on March 26-28, and Pro Day on April 1.
Several football recruits are scheduled for unofficial visits to Notre Dame this month before paid official visits are permitted in April. Five offensive linemen ranked among the top 75 overall players this class on either 247Sports or Rivals are expected to visit for Notre Dame’s vaunted March 20-22 recruiting weekend.
Fisher is among those five, joining Clarkston (Mich.) High’s Garrett Dellinger and Rocco Spindler, Olney (Md.) Good Counsel’s Landon Tengwall and Warwick (Pa.) Lititz’s Nolan Rucci. Huntington (W.V.) Spring Valley offensive lineman Wyatt Milum also planned to visit that weekend but verbally committed to West Virginia last week.
The Blue-Gold Game tends to draw the biggest crowd among spring sporting events at Notre Dame. Last year’s spring football exhibition tallied a university-reported crowd of 30,074.
“I have continued to monitor the quickly evolving situation,” the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, wrote in a statement. “And after a great deal of deliberation and consultation with experts, with all members of our community’s health and well-being in mind, I’ve decided that the University will take several steps to reduce the likelihood of transmission of the virus.
“Although there are currently no reported cases of the coronavirus at Notre Dame, the probability that it will spread to our region is high.”
St. Joseph County health officials announced Wednesday that a county resident tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first local and 11th statewide case of the viral infection. Notre Dame spokesman Paul Browne said there are currently no confirmed coronavirus cases involving students or faculty, including those studying overseas.
Though North Carolina declared a state of emergency, Notre Dame and its fellow ACC members are competing in this week’s men’s basketball conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C. The Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments this week.
Notre Dame will stay open for employees and a select number of students who receive approval to remain on campus in their undergraduate residence halls. Jenkins will evaluate by April 3 whether in-person classes should be reinstated.