Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick doesn't want football games in empty stadiums

Should college football season be played without fans? (1:02)

Ryan Clark makes a case for why the college football season should go on as scheduled even if fans aren't in the stadiums. (1:02)

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick doesn't know whether the 2020 college football season will kick off on time or be delayed because of the impact of COVID-19.

But when the games eventually kick off, Swarbrick doesn't want them to take place in empty stadiums.

"I don't see a model where we play, at least any extended number of games, in facilities where we don't have fans," Swarbrick told ESPN. "College football is about the cheerleaders and the band and the campus environment on game day. We're interested in solutions that allow us to have a traditional game-day experience."

College administrators and some conferences are discussing potential modifications to the season if it cannot start on time in late August. Proposals include elimination of some non-league games and starting the season in the late fall and continuing into 2021, or not starting the season until 2021, which could increase the likelihood of having fans in the stands. Major professional leagues both in the United States and other countries are considering whether to have games without fans present.

Swarbrick, who participates in bi-weekly calls with ACC athletic directors, knows adjustments to the schedule are possible but opposes the idea of playing a full season in empty stadiums.

"There might be a middle ground where you say, the first two games of the season, you might have to make some accommodations," he said. "Maybe you only have students in attendance and you don't invite other fans. I couldn't see us going past a very limited example of that."

Other ACC athletic directors like Miami's Blake James and Boston College's Martin Jarmond noted the unique impact college football games have for students and the surrounding communities.

"A lot goes on football weekends," Jarmond said. "It's an economic stimulus for the whole community. It's not just us or athletic departments. It's a bigger eco system that football Saturdays impact. Think about Columbus, Ohio, on a football Saturday. Think about Gainesville [Florida] on a football Saturday. So I think that's going to start picking up more. It's a little different than the NCAA tournament. That's a financial hit, that's a big deal, students miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime, that is tough. But that doesn't impact a community like a football game does."

James said that moving the season to the spring is "a conversation we're going to have to have" if it ensures students and other fans can be present for games.

Swarbrick and other administrators also are monitoring how states are responding differently to the coronavirus outbreak. Notre Dame is scheduled to open the 2020 season on Aug. 29 against Navy in Dublin, Ireland. The Irish are also set to play games in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and California, in addition to their six games in Indiana.

"How does college football operate if several states are in a position where they're not prepared to allow college football to be played, but other states are?" Swarbrick said. "My sense is everybody has to be able to go. There aren't very attractive versions of this where you say, 'Well, schools in 30 states will start the season and those in the other 20 won't.'"

North Carolina coach Mack Brown echoed Swarbrick's sentiments during an appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show on Tuesday. Brown said that he does not envision a scenario where college football is played without fans.

"I don't think we can have football without fans. I can't even fathom it," Brown said. "That's not even something I think about or talk about."

Brown said it is important for athletic departments financially to have fans at college football games.

"If it's not safe for fans, it's not safe for players. They're going to be breathing on each other for four hours."

ESPN's Andrea Adelson contributed to this story.