Behind the scenes of Notre Dame's remade schedule, its ACC pact and the road ahead

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The missing pieces beyond the ACC’s reveal of Notre Dame’s rebooted 2020 football schedule Thursday morning won’t be filled in before next week.

Even then, next week is a goal and not a promise.

For now we know the opponents and the dates in Notre Dame football’s big picture. To come are details such as stadium capacity, ticket and parking policies, and gameday mechanics — all recalibrated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We recognize with the schedule announced, the clock is ticking on our ability to communicate,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told The Tribune on Thursday evening.

“We wanted the schedule done. It helps inform our thinking. For example, we now know we have a game after the students leave. That impacts our approach.

“We needed that information. We’ll now turn in earnest to sort out the final details of ticketing.”

The Irish regular-season schedule — originally set to open Aug. 29 in Dublin, Ireland, against Navy — now starts with a home game against Duke on Sept. 12.

The Midshipmen are completely off the schedule for the first time since 1926. Also gone from the original 2020 lineup are games with Stanford, USC, Wisconsin and Arkansas. Florida State, Boston College, North Carolina and Syracuse were added to the seven original opponents, some of which had their dates shuffled.

The following Q-and-A with Swarbrick is a peek behind the curtain at how the new schedule came together, the process of becoming a full ACC member in football for a year, and what lies ahead:

Q How complicated would it have been to keep Navy on the schedule, a game that by ACC rule would have had to have been moved to Indiana?

Jack Swarbrick: “If we could have kept Navy, we would have kept Navy. It’s very important to both schools.

“Navy could not have been a better partner in discussions and exploring different possibilities. But at the end of the day, we felt strongly that having joined the conference for this season, we were obligated to follow all the rules of the conference for the season.

“And it’s easy to say you should have asked for an exception, but that’s just inconsistent with the decision that was made. If you’re in, you’re in, and you need to comply with the same standards that every other school is.”

Q Was there wiggle room to move the game to South Bend and then fiddle around with future dates or would that have caused more problems, specifically with the home/road balance on a future schedule?

JS: “That’s exactly it. You’re sort of just creating another problem of equal significance down the road as a way to try to serve the important goal of keeping the series uninterrupted. But you’re just trading one large problem for another.”

Q Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk mentioned the series had been extended in principle through 2032. How many years were tacked on?

JS: “Six, I believe.”

Q Once Navy was out, was there any consideration to look at a team besides Western Michigan, that was not previously on the schedule?

JS: “I think that would have been a little unfair to Western Michigan. But frankly it would have subjected us to a cancellation penalty, because it wouldn’t have been a case that we couldn’t play the game.

“We would have just been choosing to play someone else. That would have been a pretty foolish approach to university assets.”

Q How difficult was it to negotiate the inclusion of Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game/Orange Bowl mix, or was it offered up by the ACC?

JS: “It was always understood from the outset, this is for full membership for one year and everything that comes with that. So we spent, frankly, very little time on those sort of particulars. It was just the broader concept of you’d be a full member, including football, for one year.”

Q So sharing the TV money followed the same logic? If you’re in, this is part of the deal?

JS: “That’s exactly right. That’s a condition of membership. That’s what everybody does. They contribute their media rights. I’m sure a lot of people assume we spent a lot of time talking about it. We spent very little time talking about it.

“It was the overall notion of are we prepared to go in as a member of the ACC with football this year? And everything fell out of that — the championship game, the television money, etc.”

Q Did you have input into the scheduling — the sequencing, the opponents, home and away? Or did they just hand it out and say, ‘Here you go. Here’s the schedule.’

JS: “No, every school was asked to identify venue conflicts or other things. In our case, they were trying to maintain the dates that were already set. That was a little bit of that principle that was in play. Sort of the least-change approach.

“Given the dates (the ACC) had already given Notre Dame for its six games this year, to the extent (the ACC) can, let’s try and keep those in place.”

Q How do the bye weeks work? Are they for makeup games in case there are games that can’t be played on the original date or truly there for a week off?

JS: “I guess the answer is both. In trying to maximize bye weeks, a little bit of the decision to start on (Sept.) 12th, you hope you’re giving yourself some added flexibility in the event of cancellations.

“It’s not a perfect solution to that, but because a team may still have a problem in that week, but it gives you some additional flexibility. So yes that was a big part of it.”

Q Are you comfortable with the Sept. 12 starting point?

JS: “I am, because Notre Dame will have been in class, in residence for over a month at that point. And for all we want to nationally talk about that this is an athletics issue, this is a university issue. This is about a successful semester for the University of Notre Dame.

“And so much of what ultimately happens with athletics is simply going to be a byproduct of how we do it, returning to in-residence education at Notre Dame. And we’ll have, as I said, a month of experience under our belt to see how we’re doing.”

Q How do you feel about a Friday night game and December home game?

JS: “I am absolutely fine with the Friday night game since it’s on the road. Not interested in hosting one, but fully prepared to play one on the road. And I’m fine with a December game. My one regret is that our students won’t be on campus.

“That puts that game in a bit of a different category.”

Q Is there a specific date that we’ll know that the season is at least going to make it to the starting line? Ten days out? Two weeks out? When we’ll know for sure that there will be a game on Sept. 12?

JS: “No, but you’ll be monitoring the (COVID-19) testing results at Duke and Notre Dame. More importantly, we’ll all be looking at how the schools (general student populations) are doing. That’s going to be the biggest measure here.

“Our job is to make sure athletics operates in a way that it supports the university being able to do that successfully.”

Q What about community spread around the schools? What if a school is doing great with regard to the virus, but the surrounding community is seeing a surge of cases? Is that something the athletic directors and presidents are going to look at?

JS: “I think you can expect each school to look at it and be influenced by it. So, for example, if we were scheduled to play a game in a community that was experiencing a significant outbreak, we’d have a decision to make, even if our opponent was having good test results.

“Are we prepared to go to that community? Maybe it would cause us to say, ‘We won’t stay overnight in that community.’ And we’ll pretend we’re a high school football team and go in on the day of the game and head right out.

“So yeah, I think it’s very important. But I can’t tell you with certainty how much is too much and how we’ll react to data in any one community.”

Q Do you expect any Notre Dame football players to opt out?

JS: “I don’t know. What we are focused on is making sure every student-athlete at Notre Dame understands that he or she does not have any obligation to play if they are not comfortable with everything that’s been put in place to protect their health and safety.

“We are sending that message every day in a host of different ways. It’s really important to us. Our student-athletes understand that. We’ve given them a bunch of different people they can talk to if they have a concern.

“So far no one’s made that election, but I’m certainly open to it.”

Q There have been some player movements in the Pac-12 and Big Ten in regard to players’ voices being heard and players’ rights. What has the dialogue been like on your campus with players?

JS: “We have placed an enormous emphasis on that. (Head coach) Brian (Kelly) has stressed it from the outset that our ability to play is up to the guys. They’re going to decide whether they’re prepared to do all the things they have to do to protect their ability to play.

“And if that’s the case, you better be prepared to share with them everything you know about what you’re doing. And so we have absolutely made every effort to do that.

“I don’t know if you’ve been by what the university calls “The CRU,” but it’s the testing center at the stadium. When you go into that environment and you see what the university has done, it’s so impressive and it just reinforces the fact that we’re taking every measure possible we can to keep you healthy.

“But our job is just to provide you with that information, to show you what we’re doing, to tell you why, to ask you how you feel about it. And that’s the approach we’ve taken.”

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly tugs on the arm of Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick following ND’s 45-23 win over Virginia Tech, Oct. 6, 2018, in Blacksburg, Va.

(Home Games in CAPS)

Sept. 12: DUKE


Sept. 26: vs. Wake Forest at Charlotte, N.C.

Oct. 3: Open



Oct. 24: at Pittsburgh

Oct. 31: at Georgia Tech


Nov. 14: at Boston College

Nov. 21: Open

Nov. 27: at North Carolina


Dec. 12 or 19: ACC Championship Game at Charlotte, N.C.