By Earl Heath
Contributing Sports Writer
UCLA’s first bowl game of the Chip Kelly era went right out of the COVID window.
Tuesday night’s San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl against North Carolina State at Petco Park was canceled just hours before kickoff due to COVID-19 protocols within the Bruins’ program.
“We are extremely grateful to the Holiday Bowl, students, fans, sponsors and the people of San Diego for their support this week,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement released 4½ hours before the 5 p.m. game.
“We are deeply disappointed for our young men in the football program that worked extremely hard for this opportunity. My heart goes out to them. The health and safety of our students will always be our North Star.”
On the other side the late notice touched off anger and conspiracy theories among the Wolfpack, with coach Dave Doeren describing a lack of communication from UCLA regarding the possibility that the Bruins would be unable to play.
“Felt lied to, to be honest,” Doeren told reporters at the team hotel. “We felt like UCLA probably knew something was going on, didn’t tell anybody on our side. We had no clue they were up against that. I don’t feel like it was very well handled from their university. It would have been great to have had a heads-up so two or three days ago we could have found a Plan B. Disappointing.”
Doeren may have a point however when you look at the way this virus has stymied the country over the last two years you have to be real. Think of all the games that were cancelled in the past several months. Also what would be the purpose of conspiring? It’s the first Bowl game since 2017 (Cactus Bowl) and the Bruins have been to under Kelly. They wanted to play too.
The Fenway, Hawaii, Military, and Arizona bowls have already been canceled due to virus outbreaks leaving teams without enough available players.
Wake Forest had to rustle rapid to find a replacement for Texas A&M and will now face Rutgers in the Dec. 31 Gator Bowl, while Central Michigan relocated from the canceled Arizona Bowl and will replace Miami (Fla.) as Washington State’s opponent in the Sun Bowl.
The whole thing is disappointing as the Pack was trying to record the school’s first 10-win season in history.
I am more disappointed than anyone.