After students at Notre Dame were criticized for storming the field after Saturday’s upset over Clemson, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick defended the school’s handling of the situation in regard to protecting players on the field.
Swarbrick spoke to the South Bend Tribune on Sunday and explained that the university had prepared for the big game by beefing up security in anticipation that the 11,000 students in attendance would likely storm the field if Notre Dame were to win.
“We had all kinds of measures in place for this game and things we wanted to do, and I was really pleased with those plans,” he said. “You’ve got three possible outcomes. One is a loss. You hope that doesn’t happen, but you’re not dealing with a field storm. One is a decisive victory, and I think you can manage what occurs. The other is a game, whether it’s a knockdown, two-point conversion against Miami [sic] or an incompletion on the last play of a second overtime, it’s one where you know you face the challenge of a field rush.”
The last scenario played out with the Fighting Irish defeating the Tigers 47-40 in double overtime -- marking Notre Dame’s first win over a No. 1-ranked team since 1993.
Social media erupted after the field rush, criticizing fans for crowding the field in the midst of a pandemic, but Swarbrick defended the athletic department's response to the situation, saying that the primary goal was to protect the players and that’s exactly what happened.
“In that context, we said, ‘Here are the things we have to do. We have to protect Clemson and make sure that they’re not interacting with our student body and allow them to get off the field.’ And I thought that went very well,” Swarbrick said. “We deployed security from the tunnel entrance for them all the way to their bench. They were great in sort of getting in that line and going through there.”
As far as the Notre Dame players go, Swarbrick said they were less successful in clearing the field but he attributed that to the historic win.
”We were encouraging them but in the emotion of the moment, we were only somewhat successful with that. Some went right up the tunnel immediately. Others wound up getting engulfed by the crowd, celebrating with them,” he said,
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said after the game that he had warned his players about potential field rush.
"With COVID being as it is, we've got to get off the field and get to the tunnel," he said. “Now I beat 'em all to the tunnel. So that didn't go over so good, but they reminded me that I did tell them that, so my skills of prognostication were pretty good today."
Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins issued a letter following the game to advise students of new policies to avoid further spread.
“As exciting as last night’s victory against Clemson was, it was very disappointing to see evidence of widespread disregard of our health protocols at many gatherings over the weekend,” Jenkins wrote, seemingly referring to post-game celebrations.
Students will have to appear for mandatory testing before returning home or their registration for the following semester will be placed on home. They will also not be allowed to leave the “South Bend area” until their results come back.
Jenkins also warned of a “zero tolerance” policy for on or off campus gatherings. Violators will be subject to “severe sanctions.”
Notre Dame has seen an uptick in cases this past week, which prompted the concern after Saturday’s game. There were 38 positive cases reported on Tuesday, 71 on Wednesday, 29 on Thursday and 17 on Friday.
Critics say the insensitive celebration could have easily jeopardized the season for both teams.