'They’re excited to compete:' Notre Dame athletic director on return of college sports

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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted virtually every aspect of college life, and sports were no exception. Mario Morris, deputy athletic director at the University of Notre Dame, knows this all too well. But despite the hardships, he told Yahoo Finance Live that he's upbeat about the future of college sports.

“I think that the pandemic has had a really tough impact on college athletics. ... I think that what we’ve learned is that we can adapt and that we can be flexible and we can learn how to do things a little bit differently, and that’s the way we’ve tackled it here at Notre Dame,” Morris said.

“We’ve gotta be able to do things differently going forward. So I’m positive we’re learning those lessons out of the pandemic that we can be flexible and that we can adapt,” he added.

Morris admitted that the unconventional year was not without its struggles for student-athletes.

“It was a very difficult year for all student athletes. I couldn’t have imagined going through this when I played. But I think that our student athletes handled it very well with regards to testing and the protocols. Notre Dame was ready to play in more instances than not,” he said.

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - MAY 01: Braden Lenzy #0 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches the football against Caleb Offord #21 and Isaiah Pryor #10 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Blue-Gold Spring Game at Notre Dame Stadium on May 01, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - MAY 01: Braden Lenzy #0 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches the football against Caleb Offord #21 and Isaiah Pryor #10 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Blue-Gold Spring Game at Notre Dame Stadium on May 01, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

“So our people, our young people just handled it very, very well. There were a lot of incidents throughout the year that were tough on us. And so our student athletes are just tremendous young people. They came together and we wanted them to lead and we gave them the opportunity to do that. And they came through and just very well.”

Morris tells Yahoo Finance that there is a sense around Notre Dame’s campus that the worst of the pandemic is over and that normalcy is on its way.

“You can sort of feel it in the air, to be honest with you. We just had our Blue-Gold game, our spring game. And you can tell that everybody was really excited. You can tell that the student athletes are really excited. They’re ready to go through a typical off season where many of them will be here taking courses and training. And I know they’re excited to compete.”

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - MAY 01: Aerial view of Notre Dame Stadium from a drone prior to the Blue-Gold Spring Game at Notre Dame Stadium on May 01, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - MAY 01: Aerial view of Notre Dame Stadium from a drone prior to the Blue-Gold Spring Game at Notre Dame Stadium on May 01, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Morris also serves as CFO for business operations at the university. Notre Dame is currently under contract with NBC, which has the broadcast rights to the Fighting Irish football games. However, the annual Blue-Gold spring game was streamed exclusively on NBC’s streaming platform, Peacock. Morris said it's a possibility that the school will continue to work with Peacock. 

“Well, I think that’s going to be something we consider as we go forward. Right? Well, we still have a contract with NBC, but you know, over the years we have built out our production capabilities and that helped us this year. We’re actually able to produce football games. And so we’re excited about that. We’re excited about that capability and what opportunities that might provide for us going forward.”

Morris believes that in the coming years, student-athletes will be able to be more business-minded as they navigate their college careers.

“Thinking about the rules that have been proposed thus far a student athlete will be able to build his or her brand. They’ll be able to go out on social media and build their following and be able to take advantage of sponsorship opportunities. I think soon athletes will have more freedom to build businesses ... like other students on campus. I think they’ll just have more freedom,” he said.

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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