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Leftovers & Links: The Notre Dame dates that answer your one question

Notre Dame

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 30: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish waits in the tunnel with his players before they take the field for their game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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As an outline yielded to coherent thoughts early Sunday night, some old friends proposed an online beer. Given everything everywhere, putting off work in favor of social engagement was an even easier decision than usual.

If I had finished writing this article before that video chat, I could have just emailed it to them when the six Notre Dame fans had one question, “So, Douglas, will there be college football this year?”

Thus ended the hopes of relaxing with my beer.

I’m not an infectious disease expert, and I don’t play one on TV, so I gave them the only honest answer I can, “I’m preparing as if there will not be a football season, because I quite literally cannot afford not to be ready for that if it becomes the reality.”

That does not mean I think there will not be a season; it means such is a possibility and it is my professional responsibility to plot out an editorial calendar as far out as conceivable and my personal responsibility to pay that pesky rent.

Essentially for the exact same reasoning, Irish head coach Brian Kelly continues to prepare as if there will be a season and Notre Dame will face Navy on Aug. 29.

“We’re preparing to play,” Kelly said in a video conference with media members on Wednesday. “I’m working on that every single day.”

Now, there is a difference between blindly preparing and readying for “a new normal,” as Kelly has become understandably fond of saying.

“From my perspective, we’re preparing as a staff that we’re going to have to make adjustments,” he said. “We know that when we do get the green light to go back, it’s not going to be, ‘OK, everybody’s good, don’t worry about the virus.’

“We’re going to have to take some precautions and do some things differently. That’s really the best I can come up with relative to answer to that question.”

I only wish I had remembered that last line, or had the Wednesday transcript up on my second monitor, to offer those Irish fans as my disclaimer, as well.

The science and politics of the United States’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic will continue to change faster than we lay people can keep up with. As football fans, our truest barometers of the sport’s return will simply be the calendar.

In Notre Dame’s case, the first date to truly note will be May 15. The University intends to decide by no later than then if the second summer school session can be held on campus. That decision will also look at in-person campus activities, per Kelly, including sports-related activities.

That second summer school session begins July 6, so the decision will not affect anything in May or even early June, but the Irish coaching staff is making tentative plans for a significant on-campus recruiting weekend in mid-to-late June, replacing the one canceled in March. To some degree, that decision is also contingent on the NCAA, having currently implemented a recruiting dead period through the end of May, a distinction that eliminates any recruiting travel by either coaches or prospects.

“This time and respite, if you will, has given us the opportunity to really dig deep into this recruiting process, not knowing exactly what it’s going to look like in June or July,” Kelly said. “We’ve thrown out some dates in June. … Our university has made it clear there are no in-person classes until July 6. That’s why this May 15 date will be an opportunity to discuss further whether there will be any exceptions to this. I have no idea.”

(Again, not getting into the practicality of any of this; see the lay people comment a few paragraphs prior.) If that recruiting weekend occurs, it bodes well for returning the football team to campus both for strength and conditioning work and for those academic classes.

Kelly has doubled down on the team needing to return to the weight room about two months before it can play a game, initially setting July 1 as a do-or-delay deadline, eventually weakening it to “that early July window” in a Thursday interview with Mike Tirico on NBCSN’s “Lunch Talk Live.” Why such a lengthy buildup? Football is a dangerous game, both in terms of exhaustion and in terms of collisions, ones made riskier with fatigue.

“We’re not going to put any student-athlete in a position where they can’t be properly trained to compete at the highest level,” Kelly said Wednesday. “... It’s not going to be just a few days. It’s not going to be just a week. We’re going to need minimally 3-4 weeks to prepare our football team.”

And that would be before preseason practices begin at the end of July to ready for a game at the end of August. Any delay postpones the season by a commensurate amount.

RELATED READING: A delayed, but complete, Notre Dame season in Brian Kelly’s mind

If that does not give a clear enough timeline to the friends who turned my relaxing Sunday into a conversation on the plight of American sports, or if that is not an optimistic enough outlook despite the intentional withholding of opinions, then let’s have Kelly put it all in perspective.

In discussing the position competitions unassessed this spring, the evaluations of early-enrolled freshmen left unanswered, the installation of new playbook wrinkles never touched, Kelly pointed out it would be a blessing for those to become issues in the next few months.

“If that’s the worst we have, it means we’re back playing football and back evaluating. We’ll be able to manage that.”

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