Chat Transcript: Notre Dame and the ACC in 2020, scholarship limits, emerging players

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat for late July 2020.

Bob from Wilmington, Del.: There are nine games now scheduled. Do you think that may change?

Eric Hansen: Yes I do. I think Notre Dame will end up playing 10 or 11 regular-season games if the ACC's proposed model of 10 conference games plus one keeps its momentum. We should know more by the middle of next week. That would mean 10 ACC opponents for Notre Dame and also for the 14 ACC teams. Each would play one non-conference game. ND would count as a conference game in the standings in 2020 for ACC teams. Now, that's on paper. How these teams navigate the virus once the season would start is another story. And that's the great unknown. Will recent mitigation measures in certain states take hold and reduce infections, etc.?

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, How's the ND Insider coming along? Can't wait to see how you all put this one together. It will be a KEEPER, I'm sure. Thanks. Be safe and GO IRISH!!!!!

Eric Hansen: Ken, thanks for asking. It was a roll of the dice to even try it, given that the season could be canceled in late July or punted until spring. We believe the most likely scenario is a later start to the season this fall in the hopes that the virus numbers drop as we get into August. So it will be a special newspaper-sized section instead of a magazine. It will be out Aug. 9. All print subscribers to the South Bend Tribune and all NDI premium subscribers will get one. We'll also have some for mail order as well. Based on our interviews and the stories I've written or edited so far, I think you're really going to enjoy it. Lots of good, new info on the team.

Mike from So Cal: These chats are one of the few things keeping me sane! I thank you, and my wife thanks you more!! However, you may not want to take my question. What do you think the chances are that the university allows the players to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem? And, if they do, will this be a "one and done" or an ongoing thing? Thanks. God Bless and Keep Safe!

Eric Hansen: Mike, thanks for helping to keep ME sane. The chats are fun for me. And I am humbled really by the quality of the questions and the willingness to put up with my quirky sense of humor. ... This is an easy answer. The players are not yet out on the field when the national anthem is played at Notre Dame Stadium. So unless there is an intentional effort to change that, we won't know how it would have played out.

Dave from Cary, N.C.: Who is the player we can least afford to lose on offense and defense? And of the likely starters, who would be the easiest to replace? Thanks, and hope you are safe and well.

Eric Hansen: Dave, hope you are safe and well ... and everyone else too. ... Ian Book is the guy on offense. Kyle Hamilton is the guy on defense. Easiest to replace? Probably Aaron Banks at offensive guard, just because Josh Lugg is so good. Defense: I'd say Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. Again, not a knock on him, but Jayson Ademilola is surging, Howard Cross can contribute and I think Rylie Mills may earn some playing time as well.

Mark from St. Louis: Percentage that the Arkansas game will take place? Percentage that it will take place with fans in attendance? And if so, what do you think/hearing that the stadium capacity will be allowed in?

Eric Hansen: These percentage questions are tough, because I can't predict how the virus numbers will change in the next month. So let's at least assume the season is going to be played and work our percentages off that assumption? If ND plays the 10+1 ACC model that's being seriously discussed, and they're going to choose Navy, Arkansas or Western Michigan as the plus-one, I think you can eliminate Western Michigan. So it comes down to a home game vs. Arkansas or a road game with Navy. (And we still don't know what the SEC is going to do). I would tip the odds to Navy, because of the now 94-year relationship. The Arkansas game could be rescheduled another year. The Irish don't make the return trip until 2025. And if you're Arkansas, wouldn't you want to play that game when the stadium is full and your fans can go to the game?

As for how many people in the stands, if at all? My sense is Notre Dame wouldn't go more than a third full. Local/state health regulations would dictate a lot of this. Right now, Indiana would allow a crowd of that size or larger, provided there's a plan for social distancing and observing the state's mask order. Now you wanted percentages. If the season is played at all in the fall, I'll say 25 percent for Arkansas happening and 25 percent of fans in the stands. BUT ONLY if the virus data becomes more favorable.

Rich Fabbre from Roseville, Calif.: Eric, thanks for your great chat series. If, God forbid, we end up not playing at all this year, lots of non-draftable seniors will retain eligibility and likely want to play at ND again next year. With the typical batch of incoming freshman, how will ND manage the 85-player scholarship cap?

Eric Hansen: Hi Rich, thank you for being part of the chats. If football isn't played at all in the 2020-21 school year, I think it would be hard to bring seniors back in the fall of 2021 and expand rosters, simply because you couldn't afford it. Even the richest programs would be hurting financially, so they wouldn't be looking to add expenses in 2021.

Fred M. from St. Louis: The summer is about halfway over. Are you making any progress on your "what happened to ND in the Michigan game" story? Personally, I'm sick and tired of stories related to hypotheticals about the upcoming season/no season/modified season.

Eric Hansen: Fred, you and me both are tired of the hypotheticals. I can't wait to have something tangible to hold onto and plan for and write about. Our upcoming special section (Aug. 9) will include the types of stories you're looking for. And my feature on Brian Kelly will go down the road of what happened at Michigan, including his thoughts (and others) on the subject.

John from St. Petersburg, Fla.: Hello Eric, thanks for the chat! Really does not feel like there will be college football in the fall. What do you think will be the ultimate fate of the 2020 season? Also what were the main issues that prevented the proposed Alabama/ND game, and how close was that game to actually taking place? Thanks take care and be safe.

Eric Hansen: John, I think the perspective of whether there will be a season or not is influenced by where you live and how the virus is being managed in that area. I've been on a roller coaster with it. I acknowledge that of all the sports trying to come back, college football is logistically both the toughest plan to execute and also the one with the most dire consequences if it doesn't come back. Some people don't want to hear this, but how people behave with regard to the virus is the biggest factor in what the answer ultimately is. We need to see the numbers start to come down. As for the Alabama-Notre Dame speculation, that's all it ever was. But it was fun speculation, so it grew legs that were never real. It wasn't close to happening.

Sean from Greensboro, N.C.: Eric, hope you and your family are safe and well during these hectic times. Cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens seems to have a magic touch. In your opinion, what makes him so good? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: I'm writing an in-depth feature on him for our special section. So I'll give you a couple of Cliffs Notes. From a recruiting standpoint, he's competitive, genuine and able to communicate his philosophy and vision very well. From a coaching standpoint, he's a two-star recruit who became an All-American. He knows how to teach and he knows how to overcome obstacles.

Dick from Scottsdale Ariz.: Eric, not exactly a football question but sorta: Any word on when the refunds will actually be given back to those thousands of ND Fans who bought the game and lodging package from Anthony Travel for the Navy game in Dublin (average cost of $5K/couple)? We’ve been told “the check’s in the mail” for a month now.

Eric Hansen: Dick, I can feel your frustration, but that's way. way, way out of my lane.

Chauncey from Lake Charles, La.: Hi Eric. With the Big 10 cancelling all non-conference opponents, do you think Notre Dame is exploring those schools impacted to perhaps get them on the 2020 schedule? For example, I am graduate of Florida Atlantic, and our game with Minnesota got canceled. I am sure FAU would love the opportunity to come to South Bend. Any chance that could happen? Thanks and Godspeed.

Eric Hansen: Hi Chauncey. Great question, but I don't see it happening. Now if the ACC wasn't going to help ND out, the answer may have been different. But since they are, that is not a realistic possibility.

Robert from Evansville, Ind.: Eric, thanks for all that you do covering The Fighting Irish. What percentage of teams would have to play for it to be considered a season? Let’s say 50-70% of teams cannot play due to various travel bans, team infection rates, etc. And there’s the other 30-50% that do schedule and compete. I am thinking that N.D.’s independence might actually help here. The conferences cancel, yet N.D. plays and wins out. The bowl games are canceled and they award ND the title with an asterisk. With such a weak NCAA organization, anything is possible. Stay safe.

Eric Hansen: Robert, I see what you did there. Love it. THE answer to your question is I think there will be some uniformity, at least conference to conference. And ND fits in the ACC's profile. Even if the best-case scenario played out, this is going to be the most asterisk-laden season since 1918, Knute Rockne's first year as coach, when the Irish were adjusting the schedule as they went along that season.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric, since ticket allotment will be severely limited this season and there will be no single-game sales via alumni lottery, does this mean that visiting teams will not get an allotment so as to accommodate more home fans and reduce people traveling and crossing state lines during a pandemic? Not just at ND, but nationwide?

Eric Hansen: The visiting fans question is not one I've posed to Jack Swarbrick. When we started going down the ticket/attendance road, he didn't want to address it officially until he knew what the schedule looked like. All I can tell you is that at this time, Indiana is not banning travelers from other states or putting quarantine restrictions on them. That could change. There are other states where that's an issue. I see Ohio just joined that group yesterday in issuing a travel advisory. Again, as a nation, our behavior can change this. If the virus numbers go down, the travel restrictions begin to lessen.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Eric, in retrospect that was a dumb question I asked. ND fans come from all over the country anyway, so what's the difference as far a reducing people crossing state lines goes?

Eric Hansen: Well it's a legit question to address how complicated travel could become for all.

George from El Segundo, Calif.: How can we mail order the special Aug. 9 section? And, no, Eric, did not put me up to asking this question!

Eric Hansen: Haha. We'll have info on the ND Insider website by next weekend, but you can email me, and I'll get you the info as soon as I have it. Thanks.

Matt from Nappanee, Ind: I know you are not the recruiting guru, but does the direction of the 2021 and 2022 recruiting classes concern you at all? It seems ND has lost tangible momentum during this pandemic.

Eric Hansen: Short answer: I think it is concerning to the fans and the coaching staff. Notre Dame is a school where getting kids on campus makes a difference. It confirms. It changes minds. It has a special aura. You can only do so much virtually. The best thing that can happen to Notre Dame recruiting is for kids to be able to make visits with their families safely. That may not happen until 2021.

Joe from Asbury Park, N.J.: Who is your best guess of the true freshmen who contribute defensively?

Eric Hansen: Joe, there's a difference between can and will because of depth at certain positions. I'd say defensive lineman Rylie Mills and cornerback Caleb Offord.

Jack from Rutland, Vt.: Hi Eric, long-time reader, first-time sender. My question is: How likely is it that we'll see a lot of plays being run by Chris Tyree this season, especially if he shows himself to be as fast and elusive on the run as it appears he has been?

Eric Hansen: I don't think "a lot" will be the right descriptor, but I do think he'll have a significant role. I think he will surprise some people with his durability. Brian Kelly thinks so, too.

Lee from Lancaster. S.C.: How will all the adjustments that's being made due to COVID-19 affect the development of the freshmen? Will Jordan Johnson and Chris Tyree still be expected to contribute to the offense?

Eric Hansen: Yes they will. When I talked to Brian Kelly recently, he spoke very highly of Johnson, Tyree and tight end Michael Mayer.

Matt from L.A.: Hypothetically, if the football season is moved to the spring, what happens with the incoming early enrollees? Do they have to burn a redshirt or would they be ineligible to play (but hopefully can still participate in workouts/practices)?

Eric Hansen: That has not been addressed by the NCAA, and it's not something Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has given any thought to, he told me. My sense is that you'd let them play because there will be roster attrition by draft-eligible players who won't want to play. So roster caps would expand and perhaps that year won't count against those freshmen.

RK Anderson from Parts Unknown: Keep up the great work, man. And stay healthy! OK, a few questions from a man with cabin fever, but one who is wearing his mask. 1. Will Rocco go Irish? 2. Who will be first 2022 commit? 3. Can Ian Book get us to the next level? And, can Book become the first good IRISH QB in NFL since Joe Theismann like Heisman? Sorry for the litany of questions, but I'm going nuts without sports ... I guess Joe "Cool" Montana was good in NFL too, but it's been a long time since Irish QB was NFL STAR.

Eric Hansen: Thanks RK. 1, I spoke to someone yesterday who's plugged in, but he admitted it was an educated guess and he thinks Rocco Spindler will choose ND over Michigan next month. 2. I'll go with Joey Tanona, a four-star offensiive tackle from Zionsville, Ind., for the first 2022 commit, followed by tight end Jack Nickel. 3. I think Book will have a good year, and I think it's a blessing to have a returning starter in the year with a pandemic. 4. I think NFL stardom for Book is not in his trajectory.

Chip from Pawleys Island S.C.: Why do we get beat over the head with “must get recruits on campus to have a shot?” The weather sucks in Ann Arbor and Columbus, too.

Eric Hansen: Who said anything about the weather? Notre Dame recruits nationally. And during this pandemic a lot of recruits — much more than normal — are electing to stay close to home. That explains in part why USC is doing so well all of a sudden in California.

Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: Eric, thanks for the time! From my understanding, the media hasn’t been allowed to see any practices or conditioning since the players came back and ND started the COVID phases. Any word on players? How does the team look? Book to Austin connection via 7-on-7? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: The media has not been allowed to watch the workouts, and to this point neither has the coaching staff. However, the strength staff and the players are plugged in, and Brian Kelly knows who is excelling. Some of the emerging players who have jumped up and caught his attention, that he mentioned to me, are Chris Tyree, Jordan Johnson, Michael Mayer, Houston Griffith, Jack Kiser, Ovie Oghoufo, Isaiah Foskey and JD Bertrand.

Dwight from central Arkansas: On a given Saturday, when ND meets an opponent, there could be (estimated) up to 100 players between the two teams going helmet-to-helmet with each other over four quarters. This could hold true for any two Division 1 teams. This sounds like the "perfect storm" so to speak for the virus to be passed on. How can there be utmost safety in such close quarters? How many such "positive" outcomes of the possible spreading of the virus do you think the NCAA would tolerate before calling a halt to the season?

Eric Hansen: I don't think the NCAA has the power to halt the season. We've seen the NCAA has very little power beyond enforcement and probation. Dwight, we're going to see how this plays out as teams get into their training camps, both NFL and college. Testing and tracing are a big part of this. Statistically speaking, the players may have a better chance of being infected in a bar in the community than in a game where every player is tested once a week.

Jim from Oakwood, Ohio: Peace and blessings to you and your family. Although I live in Ohio, I'm not a Buckeye fan ... strictly all Irish. What bothers me is OSU's lack of transparency in reporting positive COVID tests among their football team. After making a splash about obtaining "pledges" from 100% of their student-athletes and their parents, OSU refuses to disclose numbers of positive player infections (I'm not asking for names) under the guise of federal privacy laws while other schools, like ND, disclose the number of positives. And the same privacy laws apply to them. What's the con that OSU is pulling? How is an opponent to know (and I realize that we are weeks away from play) whether or not they can safely play another team with the absence of a report of infections. Shouldn't the NCAA have a uniform standard of reporting? Thanks very much for the chat and all of your excellent reporting. Be well.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. Even though I have a sister who works for OSU, I haven't followed their protocols much, since they're not on ND's schedule in 2020. However, there will be conference standards in terms of testing and reporting, once the season starts. And that's one reason why the Power 5 schools are leaning toward conference-only or plus-one scheduling formats, to ensure those uniform standards. .. and thanks for the kind words.

Hank from Parts Unknown: Are you coming back to SportsBeat ever? I enjoyed listing to you on there.

Eric Hansen: Hank. Thanks. I wish I could tell you. I appreciate you listening. i hope you keep listening to Darin.

ND Harvey from Philly: E, hope all is well. I need Fighting Irish football. Your honest opinion, are we playing Navy pn Labor Day weekend? Thank you. Be Safe. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Up in the air, both the opponent and the date. The start of the season may very well get pushed back a week or two.

Jeff from York, Pa.: Eric, why has Notre Dame's recruiting been so bad? It seems like every other day I read an article on ESPN's website about a school landing several four- and five-star recruits. Notre Dame is never mentioned when ESPN is talking about their top 300 players. In one week Alabama came out of nowhere to jump to the second-ranked class in the nation, because they landed several top prospects. ND keeps adding three-star recruits that the top schools aren't interested in adding to their rosters. We were PROMISED a top five class. At this point we'll be lucky to finish in the top 15.

Eric Hansen: Jeff, as we get into August, I'm sure this is something we, as a staff, can address in ND Insider. I've given short answers to some of the specifics in this chat. One thing I will say in ND's defense: I don't know how accurate the player rankings will be in this cycle (and the next). There haven't been many opportunities in which to evaluate these prospects. ND does get a lot of players who improve their status over the cycle. Kyle Hamilton, for instance, was a three-star when he committed and ended up a five-star. Will Fuller comes to mind as well. In my special section feature with Brian Kelly, we will get into some depth with these kinds of recruiting questions.

John from Leonardtown, Md.: If Notre Dame joined the Big Ten, would they get more in TV revenue than they currently get from the NBC contract?

Eric Hansen: I don't have those figures in front of me, but I believe that would be the case. So it's not about the money — and it's not happening.

Ryan from Philadelphia: Would you rather see ND join the ACC or SEC for this year? Obviously, the ACC is the favorite but just wondering your opinion.

Eric Hansen: They won't have that choice. It'll be the ACC.

Ron from Raleigh, N.C.: Eric, Do you have any information on how ND is going to manage the roster limit? I know they still have time. but with the virus going on and no spring football, etc., you are not seeing injuries (which on one hand is great news) and players maybe afraid to transfer. So some of the regular reasons for attrition will not exist this year. Will the NCAA make exceptions for 2020? What's the roster size right now — 88? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Ron, when I asked Brian Kelly about this last week, he seemed to be confident that the NCAA was either going to extend the date teams needed to be at 85 or raise the cap (due to limited or no spring practices). As it currently stands, they'd have to get from 90 to 85 by Aug. 10, the first day of classes.

Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: As always, great job Eric. Glad you and yours are doing well. My question is a simple one. In your opinion, which Irish player from last year will most regret having come out early instead of remaining at ND, where he might have genuinely benefited from a final season in South Bend. Thanks again for being there for us Irish fans.

Eric Hansen: Hi Jim. Thanks, and I hope all is well with your family. The only one maybe with some regret might be Tony Jones Jr., and that's largely because the pandemic will limit opportunities for undrafted free agents this fall.

Chip from Pawleys Island, S.C.: Eric, I think we get the narrow pandemic-specific recruiting cycle. I was really asking why on-campus visits are universally accepted, if only by constant repetition over a number of years, as critical to ND getting commits, whereas we do not seem to ever hear that said about why Michigan or THE Ohio State University did or did not get a guy. So, beyond pandemic, why is this such a thing?

Eric Hansen: Chip, Notre Dame is so much more national in its recruiting approach. It's not always kids who have misgivings about distance. It's their parents sometimes. Getting the family and campus and feeling at home helps. Ohio State and Michigan do have national reach, but so many of the players in both programs come from much closer proximity.

Tom D. from Lansing: Eric, I don't think colleges with play this fall, leaving only recruiting to consider. I'm hating these three-star commitments. Sure, some turn out great but if you're getting three-stars, you're two stars behind Ohio State and Alabama to begin with. And we seem to lose head to head against Michigan, too. Aren't we headed for more of the same unless ND finds a way to pick it up on the recruiting trail?

Eric Hansen: I think we need to have a recruiting-only chat one of these weeks. I'll see if I can get Tom Lemming or Steve Wiltfong, national recruiting analysts, to come on with me to answer these types of questions with better depth than I can provide.

Tom from Georgia: Your opinions, please. Do you believe it would be best for ND to fully join the ACC? What is your personal preference?

Eric Hansen: I believe Notre Dame's desire to remain a football independent is in the best interests of Notre Dame football,

Mike McFadden from South Williamsport, Pa.: Love these chats, Eric. Thanks!!! Are there going to be any special on-field rule changes due to the virus? I.E. fewer timeouts, more timeouts? Shorter quarters, longer quarters for resting, etc.?

Eric Hansen: Mike, thank you. I haven't delved into that yet, but I'm sure they're coming. If you look at some of the state high school association guidelines, you'll get a glimpse of what they might look like. I don't think timeouts and quarters as much as handling the ball between plays, masks on sidelines, face shields on helmets, social distancing in the locker rooms, etc.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Do you think we should have a commissioner of national collegiate football? Why or why not? Thanks. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: It's not something I've given much thought to. I think leadership is important of all areas of life, including college sports. I think the Power 5 commissioners and Jack Swarbrick can provide sufficient leadership.

Tom from Georgia: Understanding there's a plethora of such folks, who do you find to be the most disingenuous in the lead-up to college football in 2020? Why?

Eric Hansen: I have no idea. I'm sorry. It's never crossed my mind.

Andrew from Philly: Who replaces Jack Swarbrick and how much longer will he be at ND? His reign has been underwhelming, and his tolerance for mediocrity in athletics is nauseating. Brian Kelly has been given more concessions than the previous five coaches combined, and he still can’t land a top 5 class, nor win a game against a top 5 opponent.

Eric Hansen: It sounds like you really meant to ask how much longer will Brian Kelly be at Notre Dame and who will replace him?

Chuck from Westfield, Ind.: Good morning, Eric. Hope you are well and so appreciate these chats. Do you think that we have the talent to run the pistol during critical times during our games? A second question: Do you believe that we will have the ND band this year. I know this is not a football question, but it won't seem like a game without our great band. Can you check that out for us?

Eric Hansen: I think Notre Dame has the talent to run a lot of formations, including the pistol. I'm not sure that's what Tommy Rees has in mind. That's part of the down side of seeing only one spring practice. And thanks for being part of the chats. As far as the band question, it's something I'd have to check into. I am confident that if there is a band, it won't travel this year.

Phil from Litchfield, Conn.: Hi Eric, thanks for the great chats, and I hope you and your family are well. It’s apparent that ND will play a mostly or maybe an all-ACC schedule this year, so that the league can be “flexible” in its scheduling as COVID-19 issues flare up and need to be mitigated. Beyond the actual football on the field, what are the most challenging issues around the games? Is it NBC’s scheduling? Who will be allowed to attend? (students and band only, faculty and staff, parents and family, no one?). How about the impact on the local Michiana economy? That is huge for all local businesses. They count on six home game weekends per year. Something else? I appreciate your thoughts.

Eric Hansen: Phil, thank you. I think the most challenging aspects are these two: 1. Kids being kids and wanting to go to parties with their friends, where they could become infected. 2. The recommended 14-day quarantine period for close contact with an infected player. That could wipe out a big portion of your team for two games, and the 14 days is longer than the 10-day isolation period for the infected player.

Russel from Part Unknown: Where is ND with their running back recruiting? Will ND land a quality running back this year?

Eric Hansen: Russel please include your hometown next time. ND's best shot at running back in this cycle is Logan Diggs, from Metairie, La.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for this week. Thanks for all the great questions. If possible, I'd like to do the next one next week. And sometime in August, we'll do a recruiting-only chat to go in depth with some of your questions.

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