GREEN BAY — With the Big Ten Conference’s announcement Thursday that its fall sports teams would play only conference schedules, what felt like the inevitable ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began canceling sporting events became reality: The University of Wisconsin’s matchup with Notre Dame on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field is off.
The game, part of a creative home-and-home agreement that has the Badgers and Irish slated to play in 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago, was technically Notre Dame’s home game. There had been talk of the game possibly moving to Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, but ultimately the Big Ten’s decision to shelve all non-conference play in hopes of salvaging the conference season amid the coronavirus took care of that.
“We all share in the disappointment about that and are exploring options to reschedule those games,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said in a statement. “We look forward to playing Notre Dame in 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago, and both programs are committed to rescheduling the game at Lambeau.”
Added Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick: “We look forward to playing Wisconsin at Soldier Field in 2021 and Barry and I are committed to scheduling a game at Lambeau Field in the future.”
Wisconsin played LSU at Lambeau Field in 2016, a game the Badgers won, 16-14. The event was considered a rousing success and fueled the team’s desire to play host to more college games. Since the venerable stadium was renovated in the early 2000s, the organization has worked to bring non-Packers game events to the venue during the offseason, from large concerts (Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Kenny Chesney) to games.
“The University of Notre Dame has informed the Packers that the game scheduled for Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field has been canceled due to the pandemic and the Big Ten Conference reducing their schedule to conference-only games. While we are disappointed with the game’s cancellation, we completely understand and respect the decision,” the Packers said in a statement.
“We are very hopeful to reschedule the game in the future. The Packers are proud to host such games at Lambeau Field and, with the community, experience the incredible atmosphere surrounding college football.
“We also are proud to be a part of Greater Green Bay’s enthusiastic reception of both schools and their fans for an exciting weekend of football and related activities. We appreciate the economic impact it brings to our community and we look forward to hosting future college football games at Lambeau Field.”
In an ESPN Wisconsin interview in early June, UW deputy athletic director Chris McIntosh held out hope that the game might still be played, but as professional sports leagues returned to play amid spiking positive tests around the country, that began to look like wishful thinking.
“Our plan, as our schedule sits right now, is to do everything we can to execute our schedule the way it’s currently drawn up — and that includes playing Notre Dame at Lambeau,” McIntosh said at the time.
“Our focus from the get-go is to put our energy into developing plans for each and every scenario we can imagine. We have not put our energy into trying to predict or even message what we think will happen. If you think about it, the conversation we’re having today, it’s basically been three months since this all started. And we’re at the halfway point between this starting and the season starting. Three months from now, we’ll be at about Labor Day weekend and the season’s start.
“If you think about all the things that we’ve learned in the last three months and how unpredictable it’s been that we’ve arrived at this point, it’s impossible — it’s absolutely impossible — to know with any level of confidence what will be appropriate Labor Day weekend, three months from now.
“Our focus has been on trying to be flexible and try to just accept the reality that it’s completely uncertain as to what will likely unfold. We have a plan for that in the event we’re faced with (not having fans or limiting fans in the stands), as we do any number of scenarios — from no fans to a full stadium.”
That uncertainty obviously remains, and much like Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy warned his season ticketholders of a 2020 season with no fans or limited fans inside Lambeau Field, Alvarez cautioned Badgers fans that the Camp Randall experience will not be the same in 2020, either.
“No matter how many home games we have this season, game day at Camp Randall Stadium will look different,” Alvarez wrote. “We will not be able to accommodate a full stadium. Through ongoing discussions with campus and local health officials, we are developing our plan to provide a safe game day environment for everyone. Once we have more clarity regarding the football schedule and the capacity of Camp Randall Stadium we will be able to communicate our ticketing plans.”
The Packers are scheduled to open their 2020 season against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sept. 13 and play their first regular-season home game a week later on Sept. 20 at Lambeau Field. The NFL already plans to cut preseason play from four games to two, with the NFL Players Association pushing to eliminate preseason games altogether this season.
If the Packers do play the two preseason games NFL owners want, they are expected to face the Cleveland Browns on Aug. 22 at Lambeau Field and the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 29.
The Packers are set to kick off full-squad training-camp practices on July 28, with rookies scheduled to report a week early on July 21, but the likelihood of that happening appears to be waning. Murphy acknowledged in his monthly column on the Packers’ team website that the clock is ticking.
“With training camps set to start in less than a month and with COVID-19 showing no signs of slowing down, the Packers will have to make several difficult decisions in the coming weeks,” Murphy wrote. Later, he added, “Time is no longer on our side.”