Notebook: Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick Talks Football Resuming, Schedule Ideas And Brian Kelly’s Contract
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Notebook: Jack Swarbrick Says Practices Could Start If Campus Not Yet Open

Notre Dame football’s date for reconvening on campus might not be entirely at the mercy of an upcoming university decision.

Even if Notre Dame decides to keep the rest of its summer school session online — a ruling that will come from President Rev. John Jenkins May 15 — fall sports teams could still be allowed to return to campus and practice, director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said Tuesday.

“Fall sports teams collecting for purposes of preparing may in fact happen before schools are fully open in a number of places,” Swarbrick said on a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday.

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Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick with football coach Brian Kelly
Jack Swarbrick (center) says football practices could begin early before the full opening of campus — if that happens for the fall. (Angela Driskell)

That is, of course, if the decision is made to open campus for the fall semester and welcome students back. Without an operational fall semester, football won’t start on time. Swarbrick and other Power Five commissioners made that clear after an April conference call with Vice President Mike Pence.

But an on-campus fall semester means government officials, health experts and university administrators decided football is safe to play. And to start it on time, the team needs to begin conditioning work in early or mid-July, Swarbrick and head coach Brian Kelly have said.

Notre Dame’s summer term runs through July 24. Matching up with the no-campus, no-football logic from the phone call with Pence, it would seem unlikely any group of students or athletes could be cleared to return to campus if summer goes fully online. Swarbrick, though, indicated the idea that sports teams need a fully open campus to begin training is not necessarily true.

“In the interest of safety there, just as with the decision to open the dorms,” Swarbrick said. “You have to figure out a way to assemble those students, to put them in an environment that’s safe, whether it’s a residence hall or you make other accommodations to feed them and prepare them for the season.”

Notre Dame has not announced a date for a ruling on whether to reopen for the fall semester. That decision will be Jenkins’ to make, but not before gathering input from public health officials. It’s also possible state government orders make the decision for him. The school’s preference is to do anything possible to reopen if circumstances allow, Swarbrick said.

“I’m not speaking for Fr. John to say especially at a residential college like this, there’s a huge desire to get back on campus,” Swarbrick said. “It’s so central to who we are and we want to figure it out.”

Possible Schedule Changes Not A Concern

One of the many possible models for an altered 2020 college football season is shortening it to conference games. Individual conferences would make that decision, leaving Notre Dame’s schedule with more moving parts than any other Power Five team. The Irish have teams from six conferences on the 2020 slate.

Swarbrick isn’t worried, though.

“We’re very comfortable that if it goes that way, we’ll be fine and we’ll be able to play a high-quality, full schedule with the same number of games other teams play,” Swarbrick said.

In conversations with colleagues around college athletics, Swarbrick has floated one suggestion that would help not only Notre Dame, but all schools. He calls it a “conference plus one” model where teams play their conference slate and keep one non-league game. In many cases, an annual non-conference rivalry game is more important to an athletic department and its fans than some conference ones.

Four ACC teams, for example, have yearly series against SEC opponents. USC and Stanford have the annual series with Notre Dame. The Cy-Hawk game is the state of Iowa’s peak mania. That’s not including one-off neutral-site series or high-profile home-and-homes that happen each year, like Oregon versus Ohio State, Michigan versus Washington and Texas versus LSU this year.

“There are so many great conference games, traditional rivalries that occur among schools,” Swarbrick said. “Great rivalries in Florida, for example. Clemson-South Carolina. You protect those and build your schedule around conferences. We would love Wisconsin to still be able to play Notre Dame at Lambeau Field or Arkansas to still visit. We’ll have to see how that evolves.”

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Kelly Extension Still In Works

The pay cuts for university administration and athletic department leaders announced Monday will not put contract extension between Kelly on and Notre Dame on hiatus, Swarbrick said. They predate the COVID-19 pandemic and the cuts, and Swarbrick sees no reason to let one item get in the way of the other.

“I view the two as separate,” Swarbrick said. “You have to make decisions to retain great faculty and great administrators, great educators and coaches regardless of the circumstances. Our discussions with Brian have bene ongoing for a long time and as soon as we get the opportunity to not meet by Zoom I look forward to making an announcement.”

Swarbrick did not say which coaches will take pay cuts (it’s assumed he will take one), but revealed the athletic department will contribute $1.5 million in total salary reductions for the upcoming fiscal year.

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