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Holiday Bowl game in jeopardy due to Minnesota boycott

Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys speaks during a news conference for the upcoming Holiday Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016, in San Diego. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)
Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys speaks during a news conference for the upcoming Holiday Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016, in San Diego. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

PULLMAN – The boycott by Minnesota football players has created uncertainty about Washington State’s opponent in the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl, or even if the game will be played at all as it becomes more apparent that replacing the Golden Gophers would require solving large logistical problems.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters on Friday that he wants to meet with the boycotting players and university president Eric Kaler. Kaler released a statement on Friday saying the players “thus far declined” an offer to meet.

The players continuing to dig in could make it difficult to end their boycott in time to participate in the bowl game. Head coach Tracy Claeys has thrown his support behind the players, tweeting, “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”

Should Minnesota stay home, Northern Illinois would be the next team in line to play in the game, due to having the highest Academic Progress Rate score of the 5-7 teams who were not invited to bowl games. But the Huskies have logistical issues that would make accepting an invitation cumbersome. The team has not practiced since finishing its season on Nov. 26, and many players are away from school for the holidays.

Arizona State and California would be the next schools up if NIU were to decline, but both would face challenges of their own accepting a bowl invitation to a game less than two weeks away. The schools would have little time to sell the required number of tickets and would likely lose money on the venture, particularly since for both teams the game would represent a rematch against WSU, which beat both teams earlier this season.

Jon Solomon of CBS Sports reports that UNI officials have made it clear that it would be difficult for the Huskies, who finished final exams a week ago, to play in the game. Furthermore, Solomon reports that there is no language in the Holiday Bowl contract that would require Minnesota to inform the bowl by a specific date if it was not going to participate.

Minnesota players announced their boycott on Thursday, saying they would refuse to participate in all team activities until 10 suspended players are allowed to return to the team. The suspensions stem from allegations of a sexual assault that occurred in September.

Players involved were initially suspended for three games, but were reinstated when no charges were filed. A university investigation resulted in the new suspensions, and five of the players face expulsion.

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