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Notre Dame Football

Father Jenkins Talks Return Of Students, Football Possibilities

May 20, 2020

Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins joined MSNBC this morning for an interview regarding the University’s decision to bring students back to campus this fall and the outlook of college football this season.

On Monday, Notre Dame announced it would welcome students back to campus on Aug. 10th, two weeks earlier than the fall semester was initially supposed to start. Jenkins said the University announced the decision as soon as it could to start preparations.

Certainly, whatever we do will involve extensive testing, social distancing,” Jenkins said. “It will involve masks. It will involve quarantining.

“The knowledge about this virus and the tests, the technology behind the test, is developing, so to tell you now what we're going to do, I think would be unwise. But we will develop that in the next few months and it will be ready when the students are here. Campus will look different, but I think it's manageable and I think it will be a great educational experience for our students."

Jenkins said he was confident in having the answers to those questions by the time students return.

"We're confident we have the infrastructure,” he said. “We're confident we have the space and we’re confident we can get what we need. Moving a University is like moving a battleship. It's a complex organization. There are a lot of people involved. They have to work together. We're going to do that in the next few months.

“We had to set a target. We had to set a goal, which we did and which we will be working on in the next few months. But I am confident we'll be ready. If that's the question, we will be ready when students come back."

Jenkins explained that while online learning was utilized to finish the 2020 spring semester, the experience of attending Notre Dame can’t be fully recognized without being on campus.

"The residential life of our students; the students interacting with one another, involved in student organizations, involved in the myriad of relationships they have with one another, as well as with faculty, is critical to the education we offer,” he said. “It's absolutely critical to what we offer, so it was an extremely high priority to have that as part of the educational experience in the fall.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Can we get this to happen?’ We believe we can. We have a lot of work to do, but we believe we can. Online, it's great. It's great. But it's not the fullness of what we want to offer, and so that's why we're coming back.”

Jenkins acknowledged the possibility that the Coronavirus will reach campus, but he believes that risk can be mitigated to the point where it doesn’t outweigh other risks.

“We all know that and we all face it,” he said. “There's also a risk that we fail to give the next generation of leaders in this country the education they need, and that's a risk that's in my mind as well.

“We want to educate these students in the best possible way and we think part of that is getting them here on campus, helping them experience residential life and the fullness of a Notre Dame education."

He also accepted the premise that students could contract COVID-19 while on campus.

"That may happen, but we have the facilities to treat them,” said Jenkins. “For young people, this is not a highly dangerous disease. If you're young, if you're healthy, either you get sick, sometimes you don't even show symptoms, but you can get back. Now, that we can certainly manage.”

Jenkins said that if there was a widespread outbreak on campus, it would be dealt with and that the University would have a plan in place to do so.

“If that's the case, it's probably the case for society in general and we have to manage that,” he added. “We have a response to whatever eventualities occur, we're pretty confident that we can get these students back, that it will be a healthy and safe place and we can complete the semester."

As for football, Jenkins said no final decision has been made, but said he was confident they could keep the team safe and that the bigger issue would be what to do about fan attendance.

"That's a pretty self-contained group,” he said of the team. “With extensive testing, with being very careful about the environment, the team itself, I feel we can manage that one.

“Then the question is people in the stands. Look, we have an 85,000-person stadium. Can we get 85,000 people in there? That'll be a big challenge to do that, but could we get a smaller number? 10,000, 15,000, 20,000? I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question.

“That's a different proposition and it's something we'll have to think through. No decision has been made yet and obviously, there are conversations going on between us and other schools and the whole collegiate, football, athletics community to define what is possible. No decisions have been made yet, but I expect clarity will come in the next few weeks, a month or so."

You can watch the full interview here

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