On Wednesday, the ACC announced its decision regarding conference play and what restrictions will be imposed on the 2020 college football season for its schools.
ACC teams will play 10 conference games and will be allowed to play one non-conference game. However, as the restrictions appear at the moment, the non-conference game that ACC teams are allowed to play must be in-state (for example, Virginia vs. VMI would be okay). There is some talk that ACC teams may be able to play an out-of-state, non-conference opponent; but, the opponent must be in a state that has another ACC school (like, hypothetically, Boston College playing at East Carolina). Ultimately, the non-conference rule can evolve, especially given the volume of uncertainty surrounding college football as a whole.
Now, you may ask, what does that mean for the annual Navy vs. Notre Dame tradition?
Well, we don’t know.
The two schools have enjoyed a yearly match for decades, dating back to the late 1920s. The tradition derives from the financial support the Navy gave to Notre Dame during World War II. Notre Dame holds a commanding 77-13-1 record in the series, but the Mids have enjoyed some notable wins, most recently in 2016.
The 2020 Navy-Notre Dame Game was set to be played in Dublin, Ireland. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the game has been moved to Annapolis at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium — for the first time in the history of the rivalry.
Now, with the non-conference restrictions imposed by the ACC, it appears as though the rivalry game is in jeopardy. Even if the ACC allowed its teams to play non-conference opponents out-of-state, but in a state that the ACC has a school, Annapolis is not an option (remember: the Terps left the ACC for the Big Ten in 2014, disappointing many Marylanders).
Therefore, the ACC would have to make an exception for the Irish to travel to Annapolis to face the Midshipmen. The ACC could make a one-time exception of course. After all, the campuses of the Service Academies will be some of the most locked-down bubbles in the country and will have protocols in-place that are far stricter than what most ACC schools will implement.
Another — perhaps more likely — option would be for Navy to travel to South Bend. This would not be ideal for the Midshipmen, but at the moment, it seems like a reasonable contingency if the ACC does not budge.
During a Zoom call Tuesday (a day before the ACC made its decision), Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo seemed optimistic about the Mids playing the Irish in 2020:
“I feel pretty confident it’s going be going to be played. Obviously, I read what’s going on with Notre Dame. They have all the resources to make sure that they’re testing and doing all they can. I know they got access to all the best doctors, all the best scientists and medical advice. I definitely know that they’re doing everything... They’ve got a great plan. Having played against coach (Brian) Kelly all these years, the guy is as detailed of a coach as there is out there in our profession.”
The athletic directors at Army and Navy both seem hellbent on ensuring their rivalry game takes place in 2020. Aside from that, nobody really knows what’s going to happen this year in college football. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be far from under control.
And we still haven’t heard from the American Athletic Conference regarding a formal ruling on scheduling, so the Midshipmen may have limited opportunities to see the field this year.
Because of the uncertainty, both Navy and Notre Dame should make every effort to play this game during first weekend of September. Regardless of location or circumstance, it may be the only chance for the Mids and Irish to meet on a field in 2020.