Notre Dame offers hope for leery administrators and football programs

Notre Dame finally announced on Monday that it would welcome students back to campus for the 2020-21 academic year the week of Aug. 10, two weeks earlier than originally scheduled. The school will forgo fall break in October and end the semester before Thanksgiving.

According to the ND web site, the reopening plan will include comprehensive testing for COVID-19, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, social distancing and mask requirements. The school also has identified facilities to isolate students who test positive and quarantine students.

The significance, of course, is that Notre Dame is a national icon for college football.  Notre Dame is among the most beloved and respected schools as well, a leading opinion influencer among educational institutions. Does that mean the return of college football is a safe bet for the 2020-21 football season?

Father John Jenkins, the school president, is obviously under pressure to make it happen but not all in yet. “It’s not just our decision,” he told NBC on Tuesday. “It’s the decision of all division one institutions across the nation, and so we’re going to talk to them and see what is safe and what is possible. I hope we’ll have sports. I hope we’ll have football. We’ll just have to see.”

While he wasn’t exactly going out on a limb, one has to give the Notre Dame leader credit for at least broaching the subject. Most other administrators have been reluctant, not wanting to be the first to discuss the possibility of college football next fall.

That doesn’t include the California State University system, which has announced that football can wait. The system includes Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State, the only programs in the CSU system that compete on the FBS level. Not a popular decision and they will regret it if everyone else is playing.

The University of Louisville, meanwhile, has announced that that UofL will return to regular campus operations, including students on campus and attending in-person classes. President Neeli Bendapudi noted even during 2020 spring semester that 2,700 students remained in campus facilities or affiliated housing.

Athletic Director Vince Tyra earlier indicated a decision would depend on whether students are back at school. In essence, then, the University is preparing to go ahead with a full menu this fall. That, of course, would include college football.

UofL was ahead of the game in announcing its plans. The fact that Notre Dame is now planning the do the same will give other administrators the courage to make their plans public. College football fans, desperate for the return of normalcy, may have something to cheer about this fall.

University of Louisville athletics will return some day

Photo by Cindy Rice Shelton

One more day, one more day without sports. No games in any sport. None whatsoever. Who knew the world could survive this long without athletics? Certainly not the Observer, whose life revolves around University of Louisville competition.

Scheduled for the calendar on Tuesday was the season’s first baseball game between UofL and the University of Kentucky. Jim Patterson Stadium would have been packed, with up to 4,500 people in the stands. Fans lining the fences, teeming the left field berm, rocking the playground.

This could have been the year for UofL baseball, blessed with one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball. A starting lineup of young hitters who were starting to come on strong when the season was so rudely interrupted. The program predicted to be No. 1 in the nation. All for naught.

The biggest fear for now is that this nightmare stretches into the fall, threatening to disrupt the college and professional football seasons. Basketball even. And possibly baseball again next year.

University campuses are like ghost towns, with almost all students, faculty, employees and administrators working or teleconferencing from home. The bursars and other financial types, along with athletic directors, going over every line item, developing multiple scenarios. The same folks taking pay cuts, hits to their individual retirement accounts, incurring furloughs or layoffs.  All of them preparing for the worst, hoping for the best, and, if they’re smart, praying for the day when the virus becomes just another ugly memory.

Just when one believes one has endured much of what life can throw at the one, along comes something that makes past challenges seem like child play. This one unimaginable, the COVID-19 pandemic, posing an undeniable threat to humankind. The worst since the Spanish Flu which killed 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the U.S., according to the CDC.

To make things worse this COVID-19 pandemic comes with a large degree of unpredictability, including stealth qualities. One can have it and not know it, routinely going about daily life. No way of many people confirming whether they have it or not, with the testing materials and protocols still in development or playing catch up. No way that is unless one already has severe, sometimes irreversible symptoms. In many cases, the inflicted affecting people they love the most.

Major shortages of personal protective equipment, with civilians forced to pay deference to medical professionals when it comes to necessities like face masks. The doctors and nurses definitely need the face masks, the gloves and other items but so, too, does everybody else. Get with it American industry.

Meanwhile, a major segment of the mainstream media attacking the Administration dedicated to finding solutions, attacking the leadership at every turn. Political partisanship raising its ugly face every time Congress attempts to provide financial assistance. All hands may be on deck but all too often they are running in different directions.

While there’s a strong desire to go back to normal, and some states are already taking steps, there are many unknowns and shortcomings about the future of the pandemic. Flattening the curve could be just a temporary thing, with scientists already warning about even worse consequences in the fall.

So much dissension, so many unknowns, so few answers coming in the near future. The memories of Al Greener and the pep band playing “All Hail, UofL,” and Sean Moth leading the fans in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” will have to sustain one for now.

Vince Tyra weighs in on COVID-19 crisis

Vince Tyra encourages fans to support each other during the pandemic (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Dear Friends,

This last week has been a difficult time for us all. I wanted to reach out to you directly as we navigate this unprecedented time for our country as much as for Louisville Athletics, and truly thank you for your continued passion and support of the Louisville Cardinals.

As you know, due to the ever-evolving developments of COVID-19, the University of Louisville, in conjunction with the Atlantic Coast Conference and the NCAA, has suspended all athletic related activities including all competition, formal and organized practice, recruiting and participation in NCAA championships until further notice.

While this is an extremely tough time for the Louisville Athletics community, the health and safety of our student-athletes, fans, and staff is of the utmost importance.  Plans could be altered at any time as more information becomes available in this very fluid and unprecedented matter. We are committed to open and continued communication with you, our biggest supporters.

As we continue to gather information, one thing that we do know is that we cannot do this ourselves. Our student-athletes, coaches and leadership need your support now, more than ever. If you need anything at all, please feel free to reach out to your Cardinal Athletic Fund (CAF) representative directly or contact the main line at CAF@louisville.edu.

We are in this business because we are driven to see results. We are competitors at heart, but right now that’s impossible to do. Our focus right now needs to be on how we can console, motivate, and guide those around us – and to use this time to lay the critical groundwork for our next, best chapter. I am so proud of the student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans that call themselves Louisville Cardinals.

Our program is no stranger to adversity and rising to the next challenge is part of the Cardinals’ DNA. We will get through this together, and I believe our best days are ahead of us. This is what drives us every day, and you are the embodiment of that spirit.

Until we meet again, wear your red with pride, communicate your passion for our program, and know we send the very best wishes for you and your family. Remember, in times of uncertainty, we rise as one.

                                                                                                                      Vince Tyra
                                                        University of Louisville Athletic Director