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Sports >  WSU football

Miami football team withdraws from Sun Bowl against Washington State due to COVID-19 cases on Hurricanes’ roster

Dec. 26, 2021 Updated Sun., Dec. 26, 2021 at 9:16 p.m.

WSU lines up before the start of the first half a college football game against BYU on Saturday, Oct 23, 2021, on Gesa Field in Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
WSU lines up before the start of the first half a college football game against BYU on Saturday, Oct 23, 2021, on Gesa Field in Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

The Washington State Cougars arrived in Texas at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday, only to learn three hours later that they might be forced to conclude their memorable season in unsatisfying fashion.

If the Sun Bowl can’t find a replacement opponent quickly, that’s a wrap for WSU (7-5).

The University of Miami’s athletic department announced Sunday evening that its football team had withdrawn from its postseason game against the Cougars, scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. in El Paso, Texas, because of “COVID-19 cases impacting our roster,” according to a release.

“(The Hurricanes) do not have enough student-athletes to safely compete, and the health and safety of our student-athletes will always be our top priority,” Miami deputy director of athletics Jennifer Strawley said in a school release.

The Sun Bowl is searching for a fill-in to “hopefully” face the Cougars, per statements from both WSU athletic director Pat Chun and Sun Bowl Association executive director Bernie Olivas.

“It is very disappointing that COVID is taking a toll on so many college football teams and bowl games,” Olivas said. “As of this moment, the 2021 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game has not been cancelled, although the University of Miami has withdrawn from the game. We are currently looking for a possible replacement team, in the hopes of having one to compete against Washington State, in the 88th Annual Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.”

The Sun Bowl Association’s news release promised an update “by Monday evening.”

Memphis, SMU and East Carolina each had bowl games canceled in recent days because of COVID-19 issues affecting their opponents, but those three programs have reportedly decided to end their seasons.

Teams that have already competed in bowl games this month aren’t eligible to play another, per a recent decision passed by the NCAA Football Oversight Committee.

As a result, the Sun Bowl’s search committee is expected to reach out to 5-7 programs with high Academic Progress Rate scores – teams that fell short of bowl eligibility standards by one game but performed well in the classroom.

That was the Gator Bowl’s process earlier this week, after Texas A&M backed out of the game because of limited player availability stemming from COVID-19 and injuries. Rutgers, which topped all 5-7 programs in APR, received a bid and agreed Thursday to play Wake Forest on New Year’s Eve.

The Cougars are crossing their fingers for a similar result.

“Our team is in El Paso and willing to play any opponent,” WSU coach Jake Dickert tweeted. “Our team just wants one more chance to finish this storied 2021 season.”

The Hurricanes’ program entered COVID-19 protocols Tuesday. Although ESPN reported that multiple Miami players across several position groups had tested positive, the school announced Thursday that it still planned on fielding a team for the game – the Hurricanes would arrive in El Paso the day before kickoff, however, instead of the day after Christmas.

“We are not absolutely positive they are going to come,” Olivas told ESPN, “but they have told us, and I believe them, they are doing everything they can to play.”

Miami’s late decision leaves the Sun Bowl Association in a precarious spot. It needs to locate a respectable opponent, and it’s got a day or two to work with. Would any football program that finished 5-7 and dispersed for the holidays be willing to reconvene on such short notice?

A local reporter asked Olivas on Sunday afternoon whether the Sun Bowl had a backup plan if Miami were to pull out.

“I personally think it’s too late in the game, unless it happened right now,” he told Colin Deaver, a reporter with an NBC affiliate in El Paso. “We don’t have one right now because I think it’s too late to start looking for somebody.”

The Cougars were welcomed to West Texas by a host of dancers and musicians who performed traditional Spanish numbers – the first of many festivities slated for the next five days. WSU’s team heard the news just before its second bowl-week activity began.

“We’ve already put the time and effort in these past few weeks,” WSU edge Ron Stone Jr. told Deaver in between rounds on the driving ranges at Topgolf. “We earned this game and we feel like we deserve to play.

“That’s the same mindset of everyone on the whole team – we want to be out there and we want to find a team to play.”

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