Notre Dame’s first home football game is Saturday against Duke. But it will be like no other, given the pandemic. Students, faculty and staff are allowed in the stands. Attendance is limited to 20% of the stadium’s normal capacity, tailgating is not allowed and masks will be required at all times.
Spectators in the stadium will be physically distanced. Students will be assigned seats next to their roommates and each residential group will be six feet away from others. The band and cheerleaders will perform from the stands and there will be no gameday-related activities on campus.
In spite of all that, most students are optimistic, or at least cautiously optimistic, about Saturday.
“I think that it’s really special that ND is going to be able to play in front of a crowd because the energy in ND stadium, it’s a tradition,” said ND Senior Ellen Geyer.
“I’m just ecstatic to go to the game. I want there to be more game days, so I’m hoping people are relatively smart about tailgates and parties,” ND Sophomore Nate Muller said.
“I do believe that the university and students can handle coming back to campus, going to games, and following the guidelines with COVID,” ND Senior Jared Appleby-Adeniran predicted.
But not all students are as hopeful. It’s been just over a week since Notre Dame’s phased-in reopening of in-person classes started after a spike in cases caused the university to take classes online shortly after students returned to campus. And the past seven days of coronavirus testing at Notre Dame shows an average positivity rate of 3.4%.
Some students are concerned that the university’s first Saturday gameday might reverse this progress and cause another spike in cases.
St. Mary’s student, Julianna McKenna, feels uncertain about campus safety.
“I am a bit apprehensive. I am a little skeptical about how it might impact the spread of COVID on campus with a lot of people congregating,” said McKenna.
Senior Ellen Geyer has similar concerns even though she’s excited about the game.
“It seems like if we’re barely hanging on for classes on campus, it seems obtuse to have football and be in the stadium. But I think if this is the final nail in the coffin that gets us sent home, I’ll be upset,” Geyer said.
Notre Dame takes on Duke in Notre Dame stadium at 2:30 Saturday. Notre Dame is playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season. It's a change brought on by the pandemic. And it is a first in the Fighting Irish football program’s 133-year history.