The act of fans storming fields and courts has long posed a safety challenge for stadium and arena security professionals, but when University of Notre Dame students poured onto the Notre Dame Stadium turf late Saturday night after the Irish defeated top-ranked Clemson in overtime, a new concern emerged: COVID-19 spread.
Only students, faculty, staff and player family members were permitted to attend the game featuring two top-four teams, and photos indicate that mostly students flooded the field and that nearly all of them appear to be wearing face coverings. That said, Notre Dame is taking precautions to ensure that the game's aftermath doesn't turn into a super-spreader event.
Among the changes reported by Sports Illustrated, Notre Dame will place a registration hold on the record of any students who does not appear for testing when they are required to. A registration hold would prevent students from matriculating, registering for classes or receiving a transcript. Previously, the punishment for failing to appear for testing was to lose priority status for class registration.
The school is also prohibiting students from leaving the South Bend area prior to receiving their test results, with violators receiving a registration hold. On- or off-campus gatherings that fail to adhere to Notre Dame's health and safety guidelines will be met with "severe sanctions."
“We recognize that such steps may require some to adjust plans and schedules, but these obligations are critical for your health, as well as the health of our campus, our local community, and the communities to which you will travel for break," Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins said in a statement Sunday. "The grave circumstances of this pandemic compel us to take these exceptional measures.
In an interview with the South Bend Tribune on Sunday, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he was proud of how security handled the post-game rush to the field.
“You have to relieve the front end of a crush. You have a different safety issue if you don’t. And that was visible. It was there," Swarbrick told the Tribune. “And we talked about it before: ‘If this happens, you get this mass incoming, you have to let people come or you’re going to have broken bones and other problems.’
“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."
According to Swarbrick, Notre Dame has conducted more than 68,000 COVID-19 tests on its student population of 8,600. When asked what steps the university will and needs to take in the aftermath of the field storming, Swarbrick said, “Well, surveillance testing will continue. And, in fact, as we are very close to the end of the semester, the program is very focused on making sure that everyone who leaves to return to their homes or elsewhere in the country test negative before they leave."
He also said that game-day experience tracking will help identify any issues resulting from the celebration. "Keep in mind we limit this to students, faculty and staff and player families," Swarbrick said. "We know exactly where you’re sitting. If you test positive, we'll provide the ticket manifest to the university. They know who you were supposed to be sitting near.
“They interview you about your game experience, as they would about your dining experience or your residence hall experience. So yeah, it’s very much a part of the contact tracing. And frankly seat locations help you do that.”
In his statement, Jenkins pleaded with students to use the game as inspiration for responsible behavior. “Our football team showed us how to finish strong on Saturday night," he said. "Please finish this semester strong by wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance, washing your hands and completing your daily health check.”