About six months to the day that the NC State Baseball team had its season abruptly ended, NC State Football found itself in a similar situation.
On Tuesday, UCLA backed out of the Holiday Bowl against the Pack less than five hours before kickoff due to reported COVID-19 issues with the team. The move came as a shock to NC State players, coaches, and fans alike. Head coach, Dave Doeren told reporters that he “felt lied to” and that “UCLA probably knew something was going on on their team and didn’t tell anybody on our side,” according to Ryan Bisesi and Kacy Hintz of WRAL SportsFan.
Officials with the Holiday Bowl said initially that they did not want to cancel the game but ultimately did on Wednesday, after reportedly being unsuccessful in finding a replacement team for UCLA. Despite other bowls being able to find replacements, it didn’t happen in this case and another NC State program is left wondering what could have been. Sure, the team was presented with the Holiday Bowl trophy and it will reportedly count as a 10th win, according to ESPN’s Andrea Adelsen, but there is still a bitter taste from the entire situation.
Remember the classic scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? The scene in which Clark Griswold finally gets what he thinks is his bonus check from his boss for Christmas, only to find a one year membership to the Jelly of the Month Club, instead. All of his hard work and dreams of bringing joy to his family are shattered in that moment. Similar to what this ordeal feels like.
My thing is this: UCLA’s players seemed to be fine participating in the associated activities with the bowl. Such as a visit to SeaWorld and to the USS Makin Island just a day or two before. Activities that the Wolfpack participated in as well. Now, the Bruins football team suddenly did not have enough personnel to play in the bowl game it agreed to? Moreover, said decision to back out of the game came within five hours of kickoff, leaving the opponent and bowl officials scrambling.
The only quote you’ll see from UCLA officials here is the following, simply for critique. UCLA Director of Athletics, Martin Jarmond, said in a statement that “the health and safety of our students will always be our North Star.” If that was the case, then why were the student athletes allowed to (a) travel to San Diego in the first place and (b) visit various attractions if there were known issues or, at the very least, potential for issues? In fact, Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the Los Angeles Times reported of health issues becoming a concern for the Bruins football program on December 24. Perhaps I live in a fantasy world, but I would have alerted Holiday Bowl officials that potential health issues could arise at the first sign, not wait until the 11th hour.
Meanwhile, NC State players, coaches, and staff sacrificed during the season and especially the past month to ensure their health and participation in this bowl game. Coach Doeren prided his team and staff while speaking with reporters on Tuesday, saying “100% of his team was vaccinated” and has been “doing everything right,” according to WRAL SportsFan.
The team followed health protocols, missed celebrating Christmas with their families, and traveled 2,000+ miles to San Diego all for naught. They were robbed of the opportunity to compete on a national stage. We, as fans and supporters of the team were robbed of seeing that happen as well.
Our players, coaches, alumni, and fans deserved better. A cheap trophy and empty congratulations can never replace seeing this team compete one last time.
Photo Courtesy: Chris White