MAC cancels fall sports season, leaving hole in Notre Dame's football schedule

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame will not host Western Michigan on Sept. 19 after yet another development amended its football schedule.

The Mid-American Conference announced Saturday that Western Michigan and its 11 other members will not play football in the fall. The MAC is the first Football Bowl Subdivision conference to publicize plans to cancel its fall football season.

The Irish were scheduled to host the Broncos as their lone non-conference game outside a 10-game Atlantic Coast Conference slate. Which opponent Notre Dame replaces with Western Michigan as its non-conference game remains to be seen.

ACC communications official Kevin Best confirmed with the Tribune that Notre Dame does not have to schedule a non-conference game. The Irish are permitted to just play their conference slate.

Notre Dame officials declined to comment on the situation Saturday.

According to a release from the conference, the MAC plans to postpone its other fall sports, including men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and volleyball.

“The Mid-American Conference has announced the postponement of all scheduled fall contests, as well as MAC championships, due to the continuing concerns related to the COVID-19 global pandemic,” the release said. “The Council of Presidents unanimously voted to take this action with the health and safety of its student-athletes, coaches and communities as its top priority.

"It is the intention of the membership to provide competitive opportunities for the student-athletes in these sports during the spring semester of 2021.”

MAC schools also reportedly faced financial problems in wake of the pandemic. When the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 moved to conference-only schedules, plenty of games between members of those conferences and those in the MAC were canceled.

The only MAC games left against Power Five teams were Western Michigan at Notre Dame, Ohio at Boston College, Buffalo at Kansas State and Ball State at Iowa State.

“I’m heartbroken we are in this place,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher told the Associated Press. “It would be naive to say that you don't give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications or any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost. As we sit here today we don't know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Reworking a non-conference game into the Notre Dame schedule would require finding an opponent on one of its three open dates: Sept. 19, Oct. 3 and Nov. 21. Under the ACC’s new schedule guidelines, all non-conference games must be played within the member’s state.

The Irish already had to modify their schedule. Games against USC, Stanford, Arkansas and Wisconsin were cancelled once the Pac-12, SEC and Big Ten moved to conference-only slates. Notre Dame could not come to terms with reworking its game against Navy, a team it has played in each of the past 93 seasons.

Then the ACC added Notre Dame for this season and announced its conference schedule on Thursday. The Irish are slated to play five ACC games home and away as a one-year member of the conference. They are eligible to play in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C. That game will be played on Dec. 12 or 19.

Notre Dame begins its in-person fall semester on Monday.

The coming days and weeks may determine the gravity of the MAC’s decision. The news may influence a chain reaction of fall football season cancellations from conferences. Or the MAC may figure to be more of an isolated case.

The Big Ten looks to be the first Power Five conference in position to make a decision.

According to Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports, Big Ten presidents have a meeting scheduled for Saturday. The Big Ten announced its members will not advance to their next phase of padded football practices and that teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working in just helmets helmets. The Big Ten said all other fall sports will continue to work with team physicians and athletic trainers to adjust practices to the appropriate level of activity.

“We understand there are many questions regarding how this impacts schedules, as well as the feasibility of proceeding forward with the season at all,” the conference said in a statement Saturday. “As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes.”

Pac-12 presidents are expected to meet on Tuesday, according to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Notre Dame’s Kerry Neal (56) reacts to a late-hit penalty call as Western Michigan’s Jordan White (83) looks up in this 2010 file photo.