Notre Dame football's schedule underwent the latest in a string of recent changes Thursday as the Irish learned they would not be playing Arkansas on Sept. 12 in South Bend as had previously been planned.
The Southeastern Conference, of which Arkansas is a member, announced Thursday that it would be going to a conference-only schedule this season, limiting its teams to 10 conference matchups that will start no earlier than Sept. 26.
“We believe these schedule adjustments offer the best opportunity to complete a full season by giving us the ability to adapt to the fluid nature of the virus and the flexibility to adjust schedules as necessary if disruptions occur,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “It is regrettable that some of our traditional non-conference rivalries cannot take place in 2020 under this plan, but these are unique, and hopefully temporary, circumstances that call for unconventional measures.”
The Irish have now lost scheduled games against Stanford, USC, Wisconsin and Arkansas as the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC have all gone to conference-only schedules in recent weeks.
On Wednesday, the Atlantic Coast Conference rolled out a plan to incorporate the independent Irish into the conference for this season, giving Notre Dame a full 10-game ACC schedule. The Irish still have non-conference games scheduled against Navy on Sept. 5 or 6 and against Western Michigan on Sept. 19, but it is unclear if that latter contest will conflict with the ACC's yet-to-be-released slate.
It is also still unclear whether Notre Dame will be bound by a rule set forth by the ACC that its members only play one non-conference game and that that game be played in the member school's home state. The Western Michigan matchup is a home game for Notre Dame, but the Irish are slated to play Navy in Annapolis, Maryland.
ESPN reported Thursday that Notre Dame is “still evaluating its non-ACC opponents and is expected to announce a complete schedule in the near future.” Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that partnering with the ACC this season significantly simplified the logistics of schedule-making for the Irish.
“This is just an unprecedented and extraordinary year, and you recognize that going in,” Swarbrick told ESPN. “Could we have constructed a schedule without this? Yes, but given the uncertainties that everybody faces, you couldn't exactly be sure what you have. There was a greater level of control and certainty if we could do this with the ACC than if we had just constructed the schedule ourselves.”
The Irish also learned of a second minor change to their schedule Thursday, as Georgia Tech announced that its matchup with Notre Dame, which had been scheduled to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, would instead take place at Bobby Dodd Stadium on the Yellow Jackets' campus.
The game is currently scheduled for Nov. 14, but the ACC could change that when it releases the new game dates in August.
Meanwhile, Swarbrick is still optimistic that there will be a college football season, but cautioned that the sport is not out of the woods yet.
“I faithfully look at the national data every morning, and while there remain very significant hot spots, the trend lines have definitely improved,” Swarbrick told ESPN. “The problem is that we are attempting to navigate something no other sports teams are, and that's the return to campus and campus life. That's fundamentally different.
“We're going to be joined next week by 10,000 other students. Conscientious students are going to do everything they can to keep the university safe and themselves safe, but it's a different dynamic when you're in a residential environment like that.”
Irish, Cardinal QBs on Manning list
Notre Dame's Ian Book and Ball State's Drew Plitt were among the 30 quarterbacks named to the watch list for the Manning Award, given annually to the best quarterback in college football. It is Book's second straight year on the watch list and last season he threw for more than 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns.
His fellow fifth-year senior Plitt led the Mid-American Conference with 24 touchdown passes last season and put up the fifth-most passing yards in Ball State history with more than 2,900.
Trine, Crossroads League to play
On Tuesday, the NAIA announced it had moved championships for most fall sports to the spring. Thursday, the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, home of Trine, announced it would postpone its fall sports until “later in the academic year.”
However, the organizations also gave members autonomy to schedule fall contests as they see fit and Trine and the Crossroads League – home of Saint Francis, Grace and Huntington – announced Thursday they plan to play games in the fall.
“Following NCAA recommendations and with the health and safety of our student-athletes always being paramount, we are committed to provide engaging athletic experiences for all Trine student-athletes,” Thunder athletic director Matt Land said in a statement. “This includes extensive team activities that include practice, skills development, strength and conditioning, leadership and professional development opportunities, and, where possible, actual competition. We are still working on details, but we are excited about the possibilities.”
The announcement from the Crossroads League was first relayed through Grace, which released a statement that said:
“The Crossroads League's Council of Presidents has made the decision to carry on with a fall season of competition after detailed discussion and planning. ... Grace College has produced a lengthy return-to-play set of safety protocols, and the other league institutions are doing likewise. The small geographic footprint of the Crossroads League aided in the decision to play by the league.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report