Trading Blame and Worry, Notre Dame Grapples With Celebration’s Fallout


Notre Dame knew its game against Clemson might be different. It added 35 more police officers, 40 additional ushers and dozens more in event staff and private security guards. Swarbrick asked students to forgo a tradition at the final home game for seniors — throwing marshmallows at one another just before halftime.

And Brian Kelly, the Notre Dame coach, as a way to inspire his players, told them that the fans would storm the field if they won. (The university planned to allow seniors on the field after both teams exited for their locker rooms.)

After the team’s late comeback in the fourth quarter, students moved down and crowded close to the field as overtime began. As the energy in the stadium built, Swarbrick said a tactical decision was made to not have the security, which was meant to keep students from rushing the field, push back out of fear that students might be crushed.

Mark Fox, the county’s deputy health director, who since August has advised the university’s approach to the pandemic, watched students pour over the wall from a perch near the top of the stadium. He could not recall any public-address warnings until after they were on the field.

“I was sick to my stomach,” Fox said. “I felt really ineffective as a public health person. I felt like I was wringing my hands and asking the woulda, shoulda, coulda questions, and that’s an uncomfortable place to be.”

He added: “If you’re confident going in and anticipating a win, this should have been part of the anticipation package. We talked about how the messaging could have been better. Having riot police might have been the only thing we could have done to keep them off the field. In hindsight, is there anything that could have been or should have been done? Yeah, probably so.”

The Sunday morning quarterbacking from Jenkins was not directed inward.

In a letter to students on Sunday night, he called their “widespread disregard” of health protocols at many gatherings over the weekend “very disappointing.” (A spokesman said Jenkins was referring not to the football game — where nearly two-thirds of the student body was — but to other parties.) Jenkins announced that students would not be allowed to graduate or register for classes next semester if they failed to take upcoming virus tests scheduled to begin Thursday, or if they left South Bend before getting their results.


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