As of now, Notre Dame just might continue with its spring football schedule. Before Wednesday night’s events in Oklahoma City that led to the NBA suspending its season, the initial draft of that first sentence hinged on the adverb presumably.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus is forcing all these conversations to evolve just as quickly, but multiple reports Wednesday indicated the Irish plan to practice next week even as the University moves to online-only classes and allows students to live on campus only with specific permission through April 13.
The annual Blue-Gold Game is currently scheduled for April 18. The question should not be if Notre Dame will play that Saturday in front of fans, but if there will be a practice at all.
This is not an outright criticism of continuing with spring practice. Bringing 100 players back from spring break and monitoring them is much more feasible than bringing 10,000 students back from across the country, if not the entire Western hemisphere. The dorms inherent to that latter scenario parallels a cruise ship. The extent of the football roster, including walk-ons, is more akin to a small village. Furthermore, football practices cannot be conducted virtually, while classes largely can be.
Rather, this is an acknowledgment of logic and reality. Those 100 players, 10 coaches and let’s conservatively say 30 more support staffers will be in close contact from returning to campus Sunday through mid-April. They will not, however, be isolated and interacting with only themselves.
Just as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert may have contracted the coronavirus by interacting with travelers recently returned from France, Irish coaches will go home to wives who were at work that afternoon and children who were at daycare that morning. Players living off-campus will play video games with non-athlete roommates enjoying the elastic nature of a day with only online classes. Those roommates may find themselves feasting on fast food and cheap drinks for the next month in a county with a confirmed case of the virus as of Wednesday afternoon.
If just one of those 140 or so people comes into contact with someone already exposed to the coronavirus, Notre Dame could be waiting days to learn if there is reason to worry about the entire Guglielmino Athletics Complex and those within it. Each additional confirmed case in St. Joseph County and South Bend will drastically increase the chances of such worry becoming reality.
At that point, there may be no choice but to suspend spring practices for the Irish, or perhaps postpone them as is the tentative plan at Kent State.
Admittedly, the vast majority of those 140 people, if not all of them, are not within the at-risk demographics during this pandemic, and yes, they have access to excellent medical care within the Gug. However, those are not the concerns as the novel virus infects exponentially more people across the United States. The man known as “Patient One” in Italy for playing a pivotal role in spreading the virus around the most-impacted region was, according to The New York Times, “a previously healthy 38-year-old runner.”
The widespread canceled events across the country, including the NBA for at least a few weeks, are not so much about protecting the performers, the athletes or many of the spectators from contracting COVID-19 and passing away, but rather about slowing the spread of the coronavirus as they interact with each other and with others after the events. Ohio State and Michigan are undoubtedly worried about the health of their assistant coaches out on recruiting trips, hence halting those endeavors for the time being, but more than that, the Big 10 powerhouses are worried about aiding the pandemic with unnecessary community cross-pollination.
If recruiting, the lifeblood of most college football fandom, is not absolutely necessary, how necessary is practice? One case of coronavirus on the Irish roster could lead to two more which could lead to four more outside the Gug.
Not to parrot Allen Iverson, but we’re talking about practice. The NBA and the NCAA trying to shoehorn games into this time of social distancing at least had the theoretical benefits of social threads and general distractions when they are needed most. The biggest benefit of Notre Dame practicing is testing out a few Buck linebackers and lowering Jafar Armstrong’s running form.
If the Irish insist on continuing spring practices next week, they should do so knowing the odds are slim they get through all 15. Once campus has its Patient Zero, those odds will approach nil. Despite clearing out 10,000 people or so, that feels like a not-if-but-when concern. If anyone among football personnel tests positive for the coronavirus, then there will be little choice but to scrap — or, in an absolute best-case scenario, postpone — the rest of spring practices, including the Blue-Gold Game on April 18.