Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick: Decision To Join ACC For 2020 About Maximizing ‘Control And Certainty’
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Jack Swarbrick: ACC Decision About Maximizing ‘Control And Certainty’

The answer to the ageless question of what might compel Notre Dame to join a conference was revealed Thursday to be a global health crisis.

Notre Dame and the ACC are joining forces for a 2020 season that will take on an unusual format: 10 conference games, one non-league game and the Irish eligible for the conference title. There are no divisions, games are allowed to start Sept. 7 and the title game will be delayed one or two weeks.

Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick admitted Thursday morning his reason for choosing to pilot his football program into the ACC was indeed the uncertainty the pandemic creates around college football.

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Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick
Swarbrick said he felt trying to put together a custom schedule on short notice would have come with too much uncertainty. (Notre Dame Media Relations)

“This is just an unprecedented and extraordinary year, and you recognize that going in,” Swarbrick told ESPN's Heather Dinich. “Could we have constructed a schedule without this? Yes, but given the uncertainties that everybody faces, you couldn’t exactly be sure what you have.

“There was a greater level of control and certainty if we could do this with the ACC than if we had just constructed the schedule ourselves.”

Notre Dame lost Wisconsin, Stanford and USC from its original 2020 schedule when the Big Ten and Pac-12 decided in early July to shift to conference-only seasons. The Irish already had six ACC games, including one against Clemson, as part of their agreement with the ACC. Those six are still on the new schedule, while Syracuse, Florida State, North Carolina and Boston College were added to it.

The one non-conference game is still unsettled. If the series against Navy is to continue, it must move its date and location yet again. The ACC’s rules for the one non-conference game require it to be played in the ACC team’s home state, and not earlier than Sept. 7. The game, originally set for Aug. 29 in Dublin, Ireland, was moved in June to Sept. 5 or 6 in Annapolis, Md. The Midshipmen would need to agree to move it off their campus, which is no snap-of-the-fingers decision.

“In the historical context it is a big deal,” Swarbrick said. “It also reflects the great opportunity that our working relationship with the ACC presented under these circumstances.

“Very appreciative of commissioner [John] Swofford and my colleagues for giving us this opportunity in the historical context it is. It is very significant.”

In a statement Thursday, Swofford offered a concession that has become a boilerplate phrase in 2020 — this plan can only happen if it’s safe to play and public health guidance allows. The virus spreading out of control through college campuses and teams when students return next month is the season’s biggest threat.

“I faithfully look at the national data every morning, and while there remain very significant hot spots, the trendlines have definitely improved,” Swarbrick said. “The problem is, that we are attempting to navigate something no other sports teams are, and that’s the return to campus and campus life. That’s fundamentally different.

“We’re going to be joined next week by 10,000 other students. Conscientious students are going to do everything they can to keep the university safe and themselves safe, but it’s a different dynamic when you're in a residential environment like that.”

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