What we’ve all assumed for months regarding the Notre Dame – Navy game became official on Tuesday morning. The two schools will not be starting the season in Dublin as expected for the Aer Lingus College Football Classic. Instead, due to ongoing health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Notre Dame and Navy will square off against each other at Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, for the first time ever.
The date of the game was changed as well. Originally the game was scheduled for August 29, but it was moved back a week and will either be September 5 or 6 with ABC or ESPN televising the game.
Yesterday’s news should not have been shocking to anyone. There was no way two institutions like Notre Dame and Navy were going to send their entire teams and support staff overseas in less than two months to play a college football game with a pandemic still in full effect across the globe.
News that the game will be played in Annapolis instead of an NFL venue shouldn’t really be that shocking to anyone either. While I’ve written a few times over the last couple of months that playing the game in Annapolis would create a unique experience, some have complained that the venue was too small. If anyone thinks that 70,000+ fans are going to jam-pack any stadium this fall though, you have not been paying attention to the news. In many states right now, people can’t even sit in a restaurant together yet, and in the ones where you can, capacity is limited.
The Capital Gazette reported that BB&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, was explored as a possible venue. Still, with limited capacity all but inevitable at this point, there was not a need for such a large venue. That is something to watch regarding Notre Dame’s games with Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Wisconsin. There have already been reports that Lambeau Filed might be out as the venue for Notre Dame’s showdown with Wisconsin, though UW officials have reportedly denied those talks have taken place already. NFL teams are probably going to want to limit the number of people in their facilities this fall.
US Navy-Marine Corps Stadium is no grand venue. It’s not Aviva Stadium in Dublin. It’s not Lambeau Field. Heck, it’s not even as nice as the worst NFL stadium in use right now. It holds just over 34,000 fans and is probably put to shame by even some of the biggest and best high school stadiums in Texas.
That’s not the point, though. The in-person fan experience this year is going to be minimal, if at all, at best this year. Seeing Notre Dame travel to and play on the campus of the Naval Academy for the first time in series that dates back over 90 years, though, should be a pretty special moment.
Hopefully, for the fans who had planned on going to Ireland in August, Notre Dame and Navy will reschedule a future game in Dublin. Both Notre Dame and NAvy expressed interested in making the Dublin experience happen in the future. The earliest that could be is 2022 since 2021 is a Notre Dame home game, and Aviva Stadium is already scheduled for another college football in 2021.
For this year, though, moving the game to Navy’s campus was the right move. Baring a miracle advancement in a vaccine for the coronavirus between now and the fall, there won’t be fully packed stadiums this year, so Marine Corps Stadium makes total sense. While most fans won’t experience it in person, expect there to be a whole lot more pomp and circumstance around the traditions on the Navy campus – something most Notre Dame fans probably haven’t experienced before.
It will also provide a unique experience for the Notre Dame players to be on Navy’s campus and experience what a day in the life of a cadet is like. I’m sure a group of 80+ twenty-year-olds would rather spend a long weekend in Ireland, but let’s not forget these kids are student-athletes at the end of the day. Perhaps a trip to Navy’s campus could give them a different perspective that has a positive impact on them.
Moving the date back a week could also be wise from a pure football perspective. We don’t know yet when Notre Dame will bring it’s players back for the voluntary workouts that the NCAA has approved or when an official training camp will begin. Pushing the game back a week allows for a little bit of extra time. That might not seem like a lot, but it could be significant depending on how well Notre Dame players kept up with workouts while at home.
All in all, yesterday’s news made sense on many levels, even if the development won’t make too many cents for each institution. Right now, though, that is rightfully the last thing either is thinking about.