UNLV-Notre Dame 2022 meeting means much more than merely future schedule filler

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It is too soon to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, if we all continue to behave, a few weeks from now will bring more certainty regarding the disastrous effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but for now, all we know is we are in a long tunnel of sports darkness. Notre Dame athletics are on hold with the rest of the sports world.

But by the very definition of a tunnel, there is a light at the end of it. In a coincidence, as the city that follows the most sports most closely turned off its lights, its local university proved there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Make no mistake, Irish football should return before the 2022 season, but even if the wait is that long — as long as the world as a whole holds together as best as possible — would your attention in two years be any less rapt?

UNLV will travel to Notre Dame in October of 2022, per a Tuesday announcement. Undoubtedly, the Rebels decided long ago to release this news on St. Patrick’s Day, but equally as undoubtedly, they reconsidered and then proceeded with that choice earlier this week.

“Nothing says college football history more than playing a game at Notre Dame,” UNLV director of athletics Desiree Reed-Francois said. “We are looking forward to taking our team and our fans to South Bend for what is sure to be a memorable experience.”

Have you ever been so excited to hear news of a matchup two years away against a Group of Five opponent? It’s news, and it’s news about football’s future.

Of course, the Irish should return to the football field before then. “When?” could hardly remain more unclear at the moment, and it is almost entirely out of Notre Dame’s hands.

Before going too far into this, a disclaimer: The following is intended as an exercise to set a reference point moving forward. It is not a projection. It is not a prediction. It is not a forecast. Those are for people with IQs two and three dozen points higher than mine. But as our current societal shutdown applies to the Irish, if things worsen, then move this date backward accordingly. If you properly flatten the curve, maybe it will inch forward.

Yes, there, that’s why you, Notre Dame fan, need to stay home. If you don’t, you might delay the return of Irish football. Are the stakes high enough for you now?

Anyway, the Chinese Basketball Association is preparing to return to the court following what will have been a 10-week break. The United States is now one week into its hiatus. A 10-week stretch would conclude May 20. An increasing number of projections do not expect that to be a reality, but such a timeline would allow for a month of a cushion for college football to make some decisions.

In a normal year, Notre Dame would begin preseason practice on July 31. If conditions are still dire through June, neither the University nor the NCAA would condone practice at the 11th hour; they will want lead time to be assured of safety.

With most of college football having missed spring practices, there is wide speculation the NCAA could make the logical and practical (pun intended) choice to tack up to 15 practices onto the front end of the preseason. That could have the Irish back in shorts and helmets on July 14.

For logistical, travel and health reasons, that decision would need to be made well before mid-July. Coming to that conclusion in mid-June would be a minimum.

Hence, that May 20 date coming in time, but not by much.

A month from now, there might be an idea. Hopefully, there will be. That will be a positive sign regarding the handling of the current chaos.

Even if there is not, know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Las Vegas’ lights might be off for a month, but the University of Las Vegas-Nevada proved there is light on the other side of this.

Notre Dame has yet to announce one game of the 2022 slate, but the Oct. 22 date for UNLV sheds more light on the schedule than identifying the Group of Five opponent does. Of the 11 announced games, seven have dates associated with them, including an Oct. 15 meeting with Stanford and a Nov. 5 visit from Clemson.

The Irish almost always have a mid-to-late October off week. The last time they did not have an idle week between Oct. 14 and Halloween was 2012. It is not a sure thing Notre Dame will not play Oct. 29, 2022, but it seems more likely than not. Given how worked up so many often get about opponents having extended breaks before facing the Irish, receiving one before playing Clemson would be welcome.

The 2022 schedule to date:
Sept. 3 — at Ohio State
Sept. 10 — vs. Marshall
Sept. 17 — vs. Cal
Oct. 15 — vs. Stanford
Oct. 22 — vs. UNLV
Nov. 5 — vs. Clemson
Nov. 26 — at USC

TBA — at North Carolina
TBA — vs. Boston College
TBA — at Syracuse
TBA — “at” Navy