Editor’s note: updated at 8:38 p.m. EST to add statements from Sun Bowl Association and Barstool Sports; updated at 8:51 p.m. EST to add Washington State AD Pat Chun’s statement; updated at 9:32 p.m. EST to provide an update on the MAC and CMU’s public relations; updated at 10:51 p.m. EST to update CMU’s acknowledgement of the reports; updated at 1:20 a.m. to include CMU AD Amy Folan’s statement.
COVID-19 has been the dominant topic of conversation in the sports world dating all the way back to December 2019, and it has reared itself once again in the 2021 college football bowl season.
KTSM 9 NBC’s Colin Deaver reported Monday evening the Mid-American Conference will release Central Michigan (8-4, 6-2 MAC) from their bowl obligation in Arizona to face the Washington State Cougars (7-5, 6-3 PAC-12) in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, in a game to be played on New Year’s Eve at noon Eastern time. The spot was left open earlier this week by Miami [FL], who withdrew due to COVID protocols.
“A big thanks to the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl for their incredible hosptitality. This community is fantastic, the bowl committee is a first-class operation, and we are grateful for everything they have done for us. Thank you for a great experience in Tuscon,” Central Michigan athletic director said via press statement overnight early Tuesday. “We are looking forward to getting to El Paso and taking part in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.”
Stadium’s Brett McMurphy confirmed Dever’s reports independently, also on Monday evening. The MAC has since acknowledged the reports on Twitter, though they have not formally released a formal statement.
“With the COVID-19 situation around the country affecting Bowl Season, College Football and air travel, another team having issues fielding a team has given life to the 2021 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl,” the Sun Bowl Association announced via press release on Monday evening. “... CMU arrived in Tucson on Sunday and is ready to play. Being a four-hour drive from El Paso, the Chippewas are set up logistically to make the trip and compete on Friday.”
CMU, like Washington State, had also been directly affected by COVID withdrawals this week, as their expected opponent in the Arizona Bowl, Boise State, were forced to bow out Monday afternoon after tracking developing cases prior to their planned departure for Tuscon, per BJ Rains of Broncos Nation News.
“We are grateful for the diligent work of the Sun Bowl Association, the PAC-12 Conference, the Mid-American Conference and Central Michigan University to ensure the Tony The Tiger Sun Bowl will be played,” Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said via Twitter on Monday night. A special thank you to CMU’s director of athletics Amy Folan and head coach Jim McElwain for prioritizing the bowl experience for both teams, especially the seniors who will be playing their final college football game.”
Barstool Sports, the sponsor of the Arizona Bowl, first announced Boise State’s withdrawal via Twitter on Monday afternoon, and attempted to find a team to fill Boise’s vacancy to play CMU throughout the day, but the decision was ultimately made by the Mid-American Conference to accept the Sun Bowl bid instead.
“The [Arizona Bowl] is officially canceled. It sucks. The [committee] did everything in power to save the game. Huge loss of money for us and them. WSU said Sun Bowl or nothing. CMU was willing to move. Came down to money,” Barstool’s Dave Portnoy said regarding the move via Twitter.
Portnoy also blamed the NCAA’s COVID protocols for the bowl’s cancellation, both prior to the announcement and afterwards, saying Boise’s withdrawal was “[a]ll for a couple players on Boise getting Covid with rules from the NCAA meant to apply to Covid 12-18 months ago. So dumb. Financial ramifications will be felt by everybody involved. What a joke.”
Fans who had bought tickets for the bowl game or events surrounding the bowl game will be paid back in full, per Portnoy.
The Sun Bowl, sponsored by Michigan-based food company Kellogg’s, is set to kick off at 10 a.m. Mountain time. and will air on CBS stations across the country, with streaming coverage to be provided by Paramount+.
This is a developing story, and will be updated periodically.