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Your 2020 ACC football champ: Notre Dame?

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2019, file photo, members of the Notre Dame football team sing after an NCAA college football game against Virginia Tech in South Bend, Ind. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Notre Dame are considering whether the Fighting Irish will give up their treasured football independence for the 2020 season play as a member of the league. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2019, file photo, members of the Notre Dame football team sing after an NCAA college football game against Virginia Tech in South Bend, Ind. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Notre Dame are considering whether the Fighting Irish will give up their treasured football independence for the 2020 season play as a member of the league. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Credit: Carlos Osorio

Credit: Carlos Osorio

Not to say we saw this coming, but we kind of did. None of the Power Five schools are quite ready to take the plunge into a full-blown football season, but they’re tiptoeing toward the proverbial pond. They’re thinking hard. They’re contemplating contingencies. They’re also streamlining.

The ACC on Wednesday became the latest of the big leagues to announce the adoption of a conference-only schedule, though the ACC’s version allows for a plus-one, so long as the plus-one is within state boundaries. Meaning: Georgia-Virginia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Labor Day is off, but Georgia-Georgia Tech in Athens on Nov. 28 is still on.

Oh, and Tech’s Thursday night opener against Clemson on Sept. 3? The date of that will change. The ACC has mandated that fall sports won’t begin until the week of Sept. 7-12. But now for the really big news.

There’ll be one division, as apposed to the customary two. Teams will play 10 ACC games. The top two finishers will meet in Charlotte on Dec. 12 or 19, which marks a pushback from the scheduled Dec. 5. And last but not nearly least ...

For the first time EVER, Notre Dame could play for a conference football title. Whoa, Nellie.

On Sept. 12, 2012, Notre Dame announced it would join the ACC in every sport save one. The exception was the one in which the Fighting Irish had their own TV package with NBC. The pandemic has forced everyone to re-evaluate everything. Notre Dame lost three scheduled games – against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field and the annual home-and-homes with Stanford and USC – when the Big Ten and Pac-12 moved to go conference-only in 2020. And, seeing as how the Irish are contractually obliged to play six ACC opponents every year ...

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound.

The ACC’s announcement of its 2020 reconfiguration makes no mention of what might happen beyond 2020, but it stands to reason that travel in a post-virus world won’t resemble travel in days gone by. It also stands to reason that the Irish, who in the time of the College Football Playoff know they’d better go 12-0 if they plan to make the field of four, might well see ACC membership as a better way to go. Certainly the ACC, which with Florida State in decline has become a Clemson-and-nobody-else operation, wouldn’t bristle at the thought of those gold helmets appearing in December in Charlotte on a regular basis.

That, however, is another topic – one heck of a topic, we stipulate – for another day. For now, we focus on 2020. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that new COVID-19 cases “have shown signs of leveling off.” This is what college administrators were waiting to see as the virus was spiking earlier this month. To quote Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity, speaking July 9: “Things are trending in the wrong direction.”

Not every bit of news Wednesday was encouraging. The New York Times reported that, among public four-year colleges, the University of Georgia ranks third behind Texas and Central Florida in COVID-19 cases “over the course of the pandemic.” (And UGA hasn’t been in session since the World Health Organization deemed this a pandemic.) Still, what we suggested last weekend holds: The longer colleges can wait to make a play-or-don’t-play decision on football, the better the chances of there being college football.

That’s not to say the chances are anywhere approaching great. The ACC made its adjustments in the hope that the virus numbers will get better before September. If they get worse, nobody’s playing anything, least of all football. But the Power Five schools are dancing as fast as they can to try and salvage something from 2020, and if the year ends with Notre Dame having played a full conference schedule, the ACC will take it and run with it.

I’ve said this before, but here it is again: John Swofford is one heck of a commissioner.

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