Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he is confident the Fighting Irish can still play a full season, even if Power 5 commissioners resort to a conference-only schedule to shorten this season.
If the decision is made to shorten the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, Notre Dame would lose 10 of its 12 scheduled opponents for this season because of its independent status for football.
“We are very comfortable that if it goes that way, we’ll be fine,” Swarbrick said. “We’ll be able to play a high-quality, full schedule, the same number of games other teams will play.”
Swarbrick didn’t say exactly how many games that full schedule would entail, as some Power 5 conferences like the SEC and ACC play an eight-game league schedule, while the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 play nine.
Notre Dame’s Power 5 opponents for this season include one from the SEC (Arkansas), two from the Pac-12 (USC and Stanford), one from the Big Ten (Wisconsin), and six from the ACC, per its agreement with that conference.
Notre Dame is also scheduled to face Navy of the American Athletic Conference in the season opener on Aug. 29 in Dublin, Ireland. That could potentially eliminate an 11th game for Notre Dame should non-Power 5 league teams also decide to eliminate nonconference games.
Swarbrick, who has regular conversations with the 10 FBS commissioners as a member of the College Football Playoff management committee, said he would be surprised if any of his peers haven’t considered shortening the season because of COVID-19 ramifications.
Still, he said he has also encouraged the sport’s leaders to consider a conference-only model “plus one,” because there are so many traditional rivalries like Clemson Tigers–South Carolina Gamecocks that should continue.
“You protect those, but other than that one game, you build your schedule around conferences,” Swarbrick said. “We would love Wisconsin to still be able to play Notre Dame in Lambeau this year, or Arkansas to still visit. We just have to see how that evolves, but I’m not concerned about our ability to have a challenging, robust schedule even if the conferences go to a conference-only model.”
Swarbrick, who spoke to reporters Tuesday on a Zoom news conference, said the CFP management committee has been working together closely and communicating well, which he thinks will give college football “a chance” to come up with an overarching policy to resume the sport together.
“Having said that, I think we all recognize there’s a significant chance that may not be possible,” Swarbrick said, “that either because states or individual colleges and universities take different approaches, you can’t produce a season where all members are participating in Division I football in the same way.”
Swarbrick raised several questions that could evolve as a byproduct of state-by-state re-openings, including how many games are needed to constitute a regular season for a playoff, and how rescheduling would impact the playoff and bowl season.
“Is a team whose school decides it can’t participate in a position where it’s credited a forfeit?” Swarbrick asked. “I sure hope not.”
Swarbrick was asked a wide range of questions on the call, but most centered on the athletic department’s handling of coronavirus issues and what the lasting impacts of the virus might be. He said he thinks recruiting could become “more virtual” in the future, and schedule is likely to change “significantly” for the Olympic sports.
“Out of this will come a significant need to readdress budgeting issues across colleges and universities generally,” Swarbrick said. “For our part of it, one of the big elements of that is travel. I think you’ll see … more regional play and less regular-season travel. There may even be changes made within conferences, about how many conference games are required, or what the conference postseason tournament looks like — all designed to reduce travel. And I think that would be a very positive development for college athletics. If you’re not in a bus or an airplane, you’re in your residence hall or a classroom or elsewhere on campus, and that would be a great outcome, in addition to money savings.”
Swarbrick also said the athletic department has contributed over $1.5 million in salary reductions, but didn’t give specifics.