Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football And The ACC Reach Crucial Tipping Point For 2020
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Notre Dame, ACC Reach Crucial Tipping Point Week For 2020

The final week of July means the scent of college football begins in earnest come August, which commences this Saturday.

That is particularly the case more so this year than any other while dealing with COVID-19. This week is expected to provide some clarity at least in the way of 2020 football scheduling.

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Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly (left) and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick (center)
Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick (middle) will be a crucial part of the ACC meetings scheduled this week. (Angela Driskell)

Here are three of the primary topics forthcoming:

1. Kick The Can As Long As One Can

On July 24, the NCAA Board of Governors were supposed to make a decision on whether or not to hold championships for the fall sports.

Understandably, they pushed back the decision to an unspecified time. This is about buying as much time as possible and not making conclusive statements prematurely.

While medical personnel might feel it would be most prudent to pull the plug on a 2020 college football season in the fall, college administrators, especially among the Power Five contingent, will do everything in their power to find some resolution while on life support. There is way too much revenue at stake to think otherwise.

Some might refer to it as delaying the inevitable and just kicking the can, while others might describe it as strategic crisis management, which can include stall tactics.

In the five stages toward death, one chronologically goes through denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and, finally, acceptance, per author Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

Denial occurred perhaps in the spring and early summer when it was unfathomable and unacceptable to many that there might not be a football season.

Anger began to fester when the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced earlier this month conference-only slates in 2020, meaning the cancellation of numerous marquee non-conference outings, including three for Notre Dame (Wisconsin, Stanford and USC).

We’re right in the middle now with the bargaining stage, which includes cobbling together a sensible 2020 slate that includes standardized testing and creating flexible scheduling as contingency or emergency options. That brings us to …

2. Determining The 2020 Schedule

The 15 ACC schools — including Notre Dame as a partial football member — are scheduled to meet this Wednesday, July 29, to hopefully hash out and finalize the 2020 schedule at some point prior to this weekend.

With football training camp beginning Aug. 7 and fall semester classes at Notre Dame opening on Aug. 10, clarity is needed on setting a practice plan and uniform medical protocol.

The Big 12 and SEC also are expected to have some resolution on their schedules this week, which will have an effect on whether or not Arkansas will travel to Notre Dame for the Sept. 12 home opener.

Per Brett McMurphy of Stadium, the most popular ACC model might be 10 league games (five home, five away) and a “plus one” non-conference contest. At this point, the most logical plus-one for Notre Dame would be American Athletic Conference member and longtime scheduling partner Navy.

But Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick has stated a preference for a later start, maybe one aligned with the Pac-12 opening on Sept. 19 (Navy is currently slated for Sept. 5 or 6).

Notre Dame’s six scheduled ACC games so far are: at Wake Forest (Sept. 26), at Pitt (Oct. 17), Duke (Oct. 31), Clemson (Nov. 7), at Georgia Tech (Nov. 14) and Louisville (Nov. 21) — three at home and three on the road.

In a 10-league-games-plus one model, the eight other ACC schools available for the final four games with Notre Dame would be Boston College, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Syracuse, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Whether Notre Dame could be crowned as the 2020 ACC champion in football while still holding “partial” membership in football would be up for presidential approval from the ACC member schools. That brings us to …

3. Is Full Membership In The ACC Inevitable Down The Road

There might be a popular notion that because of the unique circumstances this year that would have Notre Dame playing a full ACC football schedule, it is step one in becoming a full-fledged football member in the future. Or maybe even the ACC “strong-arming” the Fighting Irish to join in that capacity.

As I stated in a Lou’s Confession column a couple of weeks ago, there is zero evidence that this would be a fait accompli, and it would be ludicrous by the university to hastily make such a long-term commitment on the basis of a short-term issue because of the current pandemic. Everyone prefers to have negotiations from a position of strength, and this will be Notre Dame’s aspiration as well.

Still, the ACC has gradually lured Notre Dame into a potential football web that must at least be contemplated in the future.

By 2025, the answers should begin to crystallize. That is the year the current College Football Playoff format will decide on whether to expand the invites in future years, and it also is when Notre Dame’s current television contract with NBC expires.

Similar to holding on to hope of a 2020 college football season, Notre Dame football will cling to independence as long as possible.

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