Boise State punts Az Bowl slot due to team COVID cases, Barstool founder tweets misinfo about disease
Bowl organizers cancel after attempt to find replacement squad for NYE game
Nearly a year ago, the two opposing teams for the Arizona Bowl played in an empty stadium due to COVID-19, and this year, positive COVID cases among players have forced Boise State University to abandon its bowl bid, officials announced Monday afternoon.
As the Boise team was canceling its appearance to to the virus, the founder of the title sponsor, Barstool's Dave Portnoy, was tweeting misinformation about COVID, downplaying the severity of the disease on Monday afternoon.
Bowl organizers later said they were canceling the game entirely, after first saying they would seek to find a replacement team for the New Year's Eve football contest. Central Michigan University's team will instead play in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, meeting Washington State after the University of Miami pulled out over COVID cases on the its team.
"With the number of student athletes from Boise State University testing positive for COVID now exceeding the amount that would allow for safe travel and safety of players, Boise State has officially removed itself from participating in the 2021 Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl," Arizona Bowl organizers said in the afternoon.
Monday evening, they announced they'd made the "difficult decision to cancel" the game.
Boise State's Broncos were slated to play on New Year's Eve against Central Michigan University's Chippewas, who arrived in Tucson on Sunday evening. Bowl organizers said they were seeking another university to play in the game at Arizona Stadium on the University of Arizona campus this year, and could change the date the game is played. The game had been scheduled for Friday, Dec. 31, at noon.
"We are doing everything in our power to ensure that the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl will be played," Ali Farhang, chairman of the Arizona Bowl board of directors, said in the afternoon, "and rest assured our bowl leadership will exhaust every option to bring Tucson a bowl experience this year."
By Monday evening, the bowl was called off.
Calling Boise State’s decision to not compete in the bowl "disappointing on so many levels," bowl Executive Director Kym Adair said in a news release that organizers "exhausted every option to find a replacement team to play, but unfortunately we could not make that happen."
Barstool's Portnoy responded to the loss of Boise State by making multiple inaccurate claims about COVID-19, writing on Twitter as @Stoolpresidente that "nobody is dying from COVID."
The Arizona Bowl was already hampered by controversy after organizers announced the bowl's title sponsor would be Barstool Sports. Portnoy and some company employees were accused of racism and sexism, including Portnoy's repeated jokes about rape. Citing ethical concerns, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted in August to pull nearly $40,000 in funding for the bowl game because of Portnoy's comments.
Meanwhile, CDC data shows that at least 813,000 Americans have died since the pandemic began, including just under 24,000 people in Arizona. This includes 6,022 people who died from COVID-19 over the last six months, months after vaccinations were widely available, according to ADHS.
Portnoy also claimed that the "CDC just said to treat it like common common cold." In fact, the CDC has never said to treat COVID-19 cases like the common cold, rather the federal agency has pushed people to get vaccinated and wear masks as much as possible. In many cases, people's reactions to the COVID-19 can be similar to the common cold or flu, but in other cases, people face several long-term consequences, including athletes.
"People are acting like it’s a death sentence. What are we doing here? Life is short. You don’t get back the days you waste being scared," Portnoy complained.
Hospital officials in Arizona have warned that they are approaching crisis standards of care because of an overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients. On. Dec. 15, the head of Banner Health, which operates 30 hospitals across the southwest, including dozens in Arizona, said that hospitals were operating beyond their capacity, driven by an increase in patients, ICU admissions and ventilator use because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A further increase may force hospitals to begin to ration treatments under "crisis standards," said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer for Banner Health. "You do not want us to get there," she said.
“We feel for the young men in our program who were very much looking forward to closing out their season, and for some, their football careers,” Boise State University director of athletics Jeramiah Dickey said in a news release distributed by bowl organizers. “I would personally like to thank Kym Adair and her team at the Arizona Bowl for putting together a first-class student-athlete and fan experience that we are extremely disappointed to miss.”
This is the second time that the bowl game at the University of Arizona has been affected by COVID-19.
Last year, Ball State played San Jose State at Arizona Stadium without any fans in attendance because of the spike in COVID-19 cases. On Dec. 31, 2020, Arizona health officials reported nearly 9,000 cases that day, as cases surged throughout the country during the long-winter before vaccines were widely available.
Last Wednesday, the Arizona Department of Health Services said there were more than 4,500 cases. Nearly 70 percent of eligible Arizonans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, protecting about 3.9 million people. Comparatively, only about 46.2 percent of Idaho's population have been fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the rise of the COVID-19 variant known as Omicron has dashed hope that the latest coronavirus wave might subside. Data from the CDC last week showed that nearly 73 percent of cases were known the new variant, which was identified by researchers in South Africa in mid-November. There are clear signs that the new variant is significantly more virulent as the original coronavirus and the Delta variant, however, there are signs that the virus might be less deadly than its predecessors.
With Boise out, CMU may go to El Paso as teams abandon bowl bids
Boise State's decision comes during a widening chaos among college bowl games because of COVID-19.
Last week, Texas A&M bowed out of the Gator Bowl "due to a combination of COVID-19 issues within the Texas A&M football program, as well as season-ending injuries. "It is unfortunate, but we just don't have enough scholarship players available to field a team," said the team's coach Jimbo Fisher.
The University of Virginia Cavaliers also announced they were dropping out of the inaugural game of the Fenway Bowl, based in Boston because of "the number of COVID cases impacting its roster, preventing safe participation."
And, the Military Bowl was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols within Boston College, where the game was scheduled to be played by Boston College and East Carolina.
On Sunday, the University of Miami that its football team could not play in the Sun Bowl based in El Paso against Washington State because of "the number of COVID-19 cases."
In a statement from the University of Miami, officials said that the team could not play "due to the number of COVID-19 cases impacting our roster we do not have enough student-athletes to safely compete, and the health and safety of our student-athletes will always be our top priority."
Monday afternoon, it was evident that the Arizona Bowl could lose CMU as well, because the team could be picked up to replace Miami in the Sun Bowl against Washington State, leaving the Tucson game without any teams to play.
Monday night, WSU tweeted a handshake emoji and "Back On" statement directed at CMU.
The Arizona Bowl was one of three new bowl games added by the NCAA in 2015, and its inaugural game included the Nevada Wolf Pack against the Colorado State Rams. Tucson previously hosted the Copper Bowl until 1999, when the bowl game decamped to Phoenix and went through multiple iterations with different sponsors, and has become the Guaranteed Rate bowl at Chase Field.