Army left out in Bowl Day marred by cancellations, opt outs

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FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, file photo, Army head coach Jeff Monken looks on against Navy during the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Point, N.Y., in the 121st playing of the Army-Navy game. Army has a 9-2 record and was planning to play in the Independence Bowl. When that bowl game was called off because there was not another team available, it suddenly left Army looking for a postseason opponent. The Black Knights could be in line should some bowl-bound team find itself dealing with COVID-19 issues. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)

At a time when team after team had opted out of bowl games, Army found itself in a different sort of situation — left out.

The Black Knights have a 9-2 record and a nearly two-month-long commitment to the Independence Bowl. They seemed all set. But when the Dec. 26 game in Louisiana was called off Sunday night because there was not an available team to play, it suddenly left Army on the outside of the postseason landscape.

A sliver of hope remains: The Black Knights could be in line should some bowl-bound team find itself dealing with COVID-19 issues.

“These young men haven’t quit all year and we surely won’t quit now," Army director of athletics Mike Buddie said in a statement. “They deserve better. Period.”

What is usually a joyous day for more than 60 teams around the country was far more surreal as organizers set the annual bowl schedule two weeks later than usual. Far below the headlines of Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Clemson, the scramble was weird — and in the case of Army, painful.

This only adds insult: With bowl contracts still in force, a South Carolina team with a woeful 2-8 record is going to the Gasparilla Bowl.

With the season winding down, more than 20 Bowl Subdivivion teams chose not to accept an invitation to a bowl, calling an end to this long season. That led to the unusual situation of postseason games not having enough teams to fill the slots.

“It was a difficult day for all of college football,” said Nick Carparelli, the executive director of Bowl Season, the renamed Football Bowl Association. “We probably would have been naïve to think that wouldn’t have been, given all the challenges everybody’s gone through this year.”

Maybe Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck summed it up best in explaining why his team opted out.

“School is done. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go," said Fleck, whose Gophers announced they were done after going 3-4 with two cancellations. "You are talking about 11 days of doing what? Sitting there, doing nothing. Like doing nothing besides football in the hours we are allowed. Then also have boxed lunches. Boxed breakfasts. Boxed diners. And that’s going to be memorable?”

This seemed to almost perfectly sum up what teams experienced all season: UTSA was set to play in the Frisco Bowl over the weekend when SMU withdrew due to COVID-19 concerns and the bowl was scrubbed. So UTSA accepted an invitation to the First Responder Bowl, where the Roadrunners found out Sunday they will face No. 16 Louisiana-Lafayette.

That's the typical playbook in '20 — plan, cross your fingers and have a viable backup plan.

Like with the Montgomery Bowl, which will serve as a substitute this season for the canceled Fenway Bowl and feature Memphis against Florida Atlantic.

The NCAA waived bowl eligibility requirements this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which explained why Michigan State announced it was opting out — at 2-5, no less. Then again, Mike Leach and his 3-7 Mississippi State squad are heading to the Armed Forces Bowl against No. 22 Tulsa.

No one lobbied harder to play this season than Nebraska. On bowl selection day, the Cornhuskers (3-5) decided to wrap up the season.

“This year has been a long grind and it is time for our guys to have a break,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said in a statement.

Nebraska joined a long list of teams who decided enough was enough, among them Arizona State, Boise State, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Louisville, Penn State, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, SMU, Southern California, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Washington. For the Hokies, the decision ended a 27 straight bowl game run.

Some of the canceled bowl games — 15 in all, including three on Sunday alone — included the Bahamas Bowl, Celebration Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, LA Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, Redbox Bowl and Sun Bowl.

The Military Bowl remained in limbo late Sunday, though the executive director, Steve Beck, tweeted an interest in finding Army a postseason home: “We would love to host @ArmyWP_Football at the #MilitaryBowl...just have to find an opponent!”

Coaches around the country were understanding. Boise State coach Bryan Harsin listened to his players Sunday morning as they reached a decision to call it a year.

“The 2020 season has not been easy, dating back to the summer, the postponement and return of our season and then week-to-week ups and downs in dealing with COVID,” team captains Khalil Shakir, Riley Whimpey and Avery Williams said in a joint statement. "We gave everything we had this season for each other and for Bronco Nation, and are proud that we made it to a championship game despite all the challenges we faced. Now, it is time for all of us to get healthy and focus on 2021.”


AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report, along with AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell and Tim Booth.


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