Even as the 2020 football season creeps ever closer, decision-makers in college athletics remain uncertain what it will look like. The NCAA gave conferences and schools the green light to bring athletes back to campus for voluntary workouts and, in fact, some schools have already set return dates but the direction of the season itself remains hazy.
Arguably, the biggest hurdle for college football’s return isn’t whether the games will be held, or even when they will be held. Rather, it’s whether fans will be allowed into stadiums, and if so, what the capacity for attendance will be.
Father John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, offered his thoughts in an opinion piece published via the New York Times. In it, Jenkins ponders not just the scientific questions of returning to normalcy in the COVID-19 outbreak, but the moral questions as well. How the Irish would hold home football games in a nearly 80,000-seat stadium is among them. In short, Jenkins explains there’s no way to have crowds at Notre Dame Stadium without being able to enforce physical distancing.
As a football independent tied to a scheduling contract with the ACC, Notre Dame could be in a hard spot regardless if the 2020 season is anything less than uniform. The Fighting Irish have a schedule with games from California to Pennsylvania. Every state has its own guidelines for handling the pandemic, and every school has to make up its own mind about what is best.
But as far as attendance goes, Jenkins’ opinion is shared by several others in the college athletics community. Testing, tracing and other best practices are more manageable — though certainly not easy given what we already know about how the coronavirus spreads — if the group is capped to college athletes, coaches, staff and the like. That doesn’t mean there won’t be another outbreak of cases within that group, but containment might be possible.