Miami withdraws from Sun Bowl because of COVID-19 issues

The University of Miami pulled out of the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Sunday night because of COVID-19 — about four hours after scheduled opponent Washington State had arrived in El Paso, Texas, for what was to be the Dec. 31 bowl game.

The Sun Bowl became the fifth bowl to have at least one team withdraw because of how the virus affected their rosters.

The Hurricanes end 2021 at 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“We are extremely disappointed that our football team will be unable to participate,” Miami deputy athletic director/chief operating officer Jennifer Strawley said in a statement, “but due to the number of COVID-19 cases impacting our roster we do not have enough healthy student-athletes to safely compete, and the health and safety of our student-athletes will always be our top priority. This team worked hard all season to earn a bowl invitation and my heart goes out to our student-athletes, especially our seniors.”

Sun Bowl football committee chairman John Folmer, in his 49th year with the game, told the Miami Herald that bowl officials were informed of the decision in a conference call with UM and ACC officials.

“The [COVID-19] tests came back and it wasn’t good,’’ Folmer told the Herald. “It’s overwhelming when they call you and tell you this happened after Washington State had just arrived and we’re thinking everything is great.

“Not fun. Such a shock. I watched our executive director in tears. It’s the most upsetting thing that’s ever happened to us. It’s an ugly disease.’’

Miami originally was supposed to arrive in El Paso on Sunday night. But the Hurricanes had moved back their intended arrival until Thursday, the day before the bowl. A source told the Herald that the Hurricanes had only two players available for at least one position on the offensive line, and that the line was dwindling.

Positive COVID-19 tests rose to double-digit figures last Wednesday, and from there the situation got worse. Players were allowed to go home for Christmas and were to return by Monday.

“It is disappointing news that the University of Miami is unable to participate in the 2021 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl,’’ Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said in a release. “We will work with the Pac-12 Conference and the Sun Bowl Association to hopefully find a replacement opponent for the game.’’

Washington State finished its regular season 7-5 and 6-3 in the Pac-12.

UM interim bowl coach Jess Simpson, the usual defensive line coach, was supposed to lead Miami in the game after the Hurricanes fired former coach Manny Diaz on Dec. 6. Now the Hurricanes will next play in September when new coach Mario Cristobal makes his debut on the sidelines for Miami against the FCS Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.

The Hurricanes’ COVID issues surfaced Tuesday when the team altered a scheduled practice from a normal session to a walk-through after multiple players tested positive for the coronavirus. Miami began speaking with representatives from the Sun Bowl soon afterward, hoping its virus issues would be under control in time to play safely. UM has only had two full practices since the final regular-season game against Duke on Nov. 27.

“We regret the impact this has on the Washington State program and their postseason experience,” Strawley said. “I want to commend the Sun Bowl Association for their tireless work in helping us navigate this situation over the past several days. We are grateful for their support as an Atlantic Coast Conference bowl partner.”

The Military (Boston College and East Carolina) and Fenway (Virginia and SMU) bowls announced Sunday that they were canceled, with BC not having enough players “to safely play a game,’’ Boston College athletic director Jeff Hafley said.

Likewise, Virginia released a statement saying it could no longer participate in Wednesday’s Fenway Bowl due to additional positive COVID test results that came in Sunday morning.

On Thursday, the EasyPost Hawaii Bowl was canceled when Hawaii pulled out because of COVID. Memphis had already arrived for the game.

And No. 23 Texas A&M pulled out of the Dec. 31 Gator Bowl against Wake Forest because of the virus and various injuries. Replacing the Aggies will be Rutgers, which didn’t originally qualify for a bowl with its 5-7 record but was allowed by the NCAA to replace Texas A&M based on having the highest Academic Progress Rate (APR) score among teams with a 5-7 record.

The Hurricanes did not deal with any known COVID issues this season, although they had to cancel a pair of games late last year after more than a dozen players were sidelined for virus-related reasons and trainer Vinny Scavo even spent time in the hospital during his battle with the coronavirus.

This story was originally published December 26, 2021 8:20 PM.

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