Sun Bowl had no backup plan to replace Miami, per report; scrambling to find opponent for Cougars
It had only been a few hours after Washington State’s plane landed in El Paso, Texas, when the Cougars found out Miami was pulling out of the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, leaving the Cougars, the Pac-12, and the rest of the bowl organizing committee to scramble to find a replacement.
“Our team just wants one more chance to finish this storied 2021 season,” head coach Jake Dickert tweeted once the news came down Sunday night. After a disastrous start to the year, Wazzu went 6-2 over the final eight weeks of the season and hammered Washington 40-13 in the regular-season finale to win the program’s first Apple Cup in seven years. But the year might end unceremoniously.
And according to the bowl game’s executive director Bernie Olivas, the organizing committee had no backup plan in place as a contingency plan should Miami pull out of the game despite the program being in COVID protocols for a week.
Olivas told KTSM’s Colin Deaver that Sun Bowl officials had been in daily contact with Miami and team COVID numbers were headed in the right direction ahead of a team break for Christmas, but when players returned to campus from Christmas more positive cases were discovered.
“I think it’s too late in the game unless it happened right now,” Olivas told KTSM Sunday afternoon. “Those teams that were canceled on, they might be available right now, but any later than this, it would probably be impossible to get anybody. To be honest with you, we’re counting on Miami and Washington State. As far as a backup plan, because we are where we are we don’t have one right now, I think it’s too late to start looking for someone to be a replacement team.”
Three hours later, Miami officially pulled out. Now there’s some scrambling.
“We’re looking at everyone right there that could probably still play,” Olivas said. “Some of those (bowl-eligible) teams have already disbanded and gone home but we’re looking at some that might possibly still be available.
“We would look at all the 5-7 teams according to APR but some of those have already declined to play in a bowl game. We’re looking to find an opponent for Washington State and within 24 hours we’ll know whether there will be an opponent or not.”
Olivas also told USA Today that “as of this moment” the game hasn’t been canceled and both Washington State and the Sun Bowl committee want a game to happen.
Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel tweeted Sunday night that Illinois was “unlikely” to push for a replacement spot in the Sun Bowl. The Illini, 5-7, were very vocal about wanting a chance to play after Texas A&M pulled out of the Gator Bowl, but that spot went to Rutgers. Illinois, Syracuse, and Texas would be the next programs in line for replacement teams because of their APR scores.
Lou Romano, a local sports director in El Paso, reported that nearby SMU was not an option, despite having its bowl game against Virginia canceled due to COVID issues within the Cavaliers’ program. The complicating issue here is whether teams have already dismissed their players from campus or not. Getting everyone back and prepped on short notice is proving too large a logistical task for some.
Stephen F. Austin head coach Colby Carthel tweeted late Sunday night his team was “willing and able” to play the game. “SFA Football can play Washington State in the Sun Bowl on four days notice, no problem,” he said. “Let’s make it happen.” But, according to Olivas, the committee isn’t to looking at FCS programs yet.
Late-night update from Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas on the bowl's search for a Miami replacement to play Washington State on New Year's Eve. Addresses canceled bowl teams; 5-7 teams; FCS teams; and Miami COVID issues. pic.twitter.com/EPoI3x4UA9
— Colin Deaver (@ColinDeaverTV) December 27, 2021