It's hard to blame Notre Dame students for their excitement about their 47-40 double-overtime win over then-No. 1 Clemson on Saturday. After all, it was the program's first win over a top-ranked opponent since 1993, which was several years before most Notre Dame undergraduates were born.
But the collective decision of what appeared to be mostly young Notre Dame fans to rush the field at Notre Dame Stadium in the wake of Saturday's win drew immediate ire from the onlooking world as many from an announced crowd of 11,011 spilled from the stands to celebrate the victory.
Within moments of Notre Dame's defense stopping Clemson on fourth down in the second overtime, fans began to rush the field. Soon after, it became a tightly packed mass of fans mingling with the players in celebration as the Fighting Irish avenged a 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal loss to the Tigers.
Notre Dame adopted an attendance policy amid the COVID-19 pandemic that limits the stadium to 20% capacity or less with priority given to students "assuring that every student who wants to attend games will be able to do so." The policy requires all attendees to wear masks "and practice physical distancing."
That last part certainly fell by the wayside Saturday night. Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins released a statement on Sunday on the crowd rushing the field, expressing his disappointment at what he saw occur despite recent guidelines being handed down to students.
"As exciting as last night's victory against Clemson was, it was very disappointing to see evidence of widespread disregard of our health protocols at many gatherings over the weekend," he wrote.
Jenkins laid out the following steps to be taken following the event:
- The University will place a registration hold on next semester for any student who fails to appear for COVID-19 testing at the appropriate time.
- Students will be unable to leave South Bend before receiving their results from their exit tests.
- People who do not comport to the school's health and safety guidelines on campus or off campus will be subject to "severe sanctions."
It's not the first time that COVID-19 has cast a pall over an otherwise celebratory moment in major American sports. Los Angels Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner received sharp criticism for choosing to take pictures on the field with his teammates after the Dodgers won the World Series last month. Turner had learned during the series-clinching game that he was positive for the coronavirus.
One major difference in the two situations is that the Dodgers' season was over when Turner potentially exposed his teammates to the coronavirus. The No. 2 Fighting Irish are scheduled to play at Boston College next week.