Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 PRESEASON 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL T he 58 percent of college football teams forging on- ward this fall will attempt to prove an exception to Abra- ham Lincoln's mantra wrong. July and August's events certainly revealed the house of college football is divided against itself. The Power Five is now the Power Three. The Group of Five is the Group of Three. And Notre Dame is in a conference — the ACC. The Big Ten, Pac-12, Moun- tain West and Mid-American punted on fall football. The other six Foot- ball Bowl Subdivision leagues voted to play, with the Big 12 presi- dents' decision to move forward reportedly the swing vote on season or no season. Now, we'll see if that house, without 42 percent of its members, can actually stand. There will be more obstacles — some controllable, others not. Each conference made its decision on schedule length and holding a season on its own. College football's leadership structure with no one in charge nationally makes it that way. The Pac-12 and the MAC boards recommended against playing foot- ball this fall. The SEC's said it was OK. The ACC Medical Advisory Group gave the go-ahead as well. Its chairman, Duke infectious dis- ease expert Dr. Cameron Wolfe, said football poses no extra risk that isn't already present on a college campus. "We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe," Wolfe told Sports Business Daily. "Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. "But I do believe you can suffi- ciently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that's no different than living as a student on campus." Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his players believe it's true. Fifth- year senior quarterback Ian Book and nine other team leaders released a statement posted to Book's Twitter account urging university and ACC leaders to preserve the season. Book and at least eight other team- mates also tweeted the #WeWantTo- Play hashtag as part of a movement organized by college football players. "I feel like you're just as at-risk any- where right now, whether it's going out to the grocery store or going out to eat," Notre Dame fifth-year senior de- fensive end Daelin Hayes said on The Today Show in early August. "That's just the reality of our situation. "I'd rather take that risk playing the game I love and fighting for my career once I leave Notre Dame. I think a lot of guys feel that way. A lot of players express that sentiment across the country in their last [year] or junior year." THE NEW NORMAL As some feeling of normalcy re- turned Aug. 12 with Notre Dame's first practice, Kelly was offered a re- minder any such feelings are fleeting. It came in the form of water bottles. They were methodically scattered across the field in ki- osks. Normally, training staff assistants provide water to players at will. This year, ev- ery player must bring his own as part of many adjustments to make practice more sanitary. The seemingly mundane and negligible adjustment birthed an unintended outcome. "Our weight loss was expo- nentially different yesterday than it has been from a practice for any other time since I've been here," Kelly said a day after the first practice. "Gener- ally, we'll have about six or eight players lose about 3 percent body weight. [The first day], we had 15 to 17." It is a sign of the unexpected hurdles that will surely arise for every team throughout a season for which no one really has experience in planning. "I've been doing it for 30 years, and I feel like a first-year head coach," Kelly said. Other new wrinkles were easing into tackling/contact drills after going nearly eight months without them. Players have masks around their neck and must wear them whenever their helmets are off. Footballs are cleaned and exchanged after every play. Locker rooms must be at 50 percent capacity, doubling the necessary time for pre- and post-practice routines. The boulder in the middle of every- thing is mass personnel losses due to positive tests and contact tracing that arise right before games. Notre Dame opened fall camp with nine players missing for those rea- sons. That's barely a dent in a week of August practice. But when pre- sented on a Friday morning of game week, plans are torn up. The affected players could be half the offensive line or secondary. The im- portance of having backup players and coaches ready to step in skyrockets. "You have to be aware of that," Kelly said. "I'm not paralyzed by it, but you UNDER THE DOME YEAR OF ADJUSTMENTS The only certainty about the 2020 season are the frequent new hurdles Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick (left) and head coach Brian Kelly (right) have avoided an outbreak with the football program, but have still already experienced the twists of playing this season. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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