By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL/Designated Writers
The Little Bowl That Could finally couldn’t.
The announcement Sunday that there would be no Independence Bowl this year wasn’t really shocking or even mildly surprising. Nothing that has happened in the college football season of 2020 has gone by the book — as if there had even been a book in the first place — but that doesn’t do anything to ease the disappointment.
The Independence Bowl is touted as being the 11th oldest bowl in terms of continuous service but it’s the 1st oldest bowl in terms of dusting itself off following one body blow after another and teeing it up every December.
Except this one.
This might be a whole lot easier to take if there had been a bad guy in this whole deal. With team after team opting not to play in a bowl game, it didn’t take too much number crunching to figure out that there weren’t enough teams to go around to fill the bowls. First, the newbie bowl games (Fenway, Los Angeles) went by the wayside. Then teams, many of whom were way deeper into the calendar than they were accustomed to, began backing out.
Since there was a contractual tie-in with the Pac-12 Conference, the bowl held out hope that would stand up. But that conference, which apparently can’t make a decision on its own without asking the Big 10, fell apart like a cheap suit. Other bowls with tie-ins to the Pac-12 began to cancel, so the Independence Bowl began to move up in the rotation. There was the thought that UCLA — and its huge television market — might be the pick, which would have been a major coup. But the Bruins announced during the week that there would be no post-season.
Even though there was a one-year allowance for teams to go to bowls with a losing record, three Big 10 teams — including Nebraska — announced Saturday they wouldn’t be playing in the post-season, adding to the list of schools that grew to almost two dozen.
There are a lot of people and entities to feel sorry for in this whole sordid situation. Bowl officials put on a good face, but this has already cost them money they won’t get back. Needless to say, think of all the hard work that has gone into the game. Even with the delayed season, bowl officials were prepared to make it a go with only six days notice. Because they have always found a way before, no matter what the crisis.
But the saddest part of this is for Army, which accepted a bid as soon as it had its sixth win. That allowed the Independence Bowl to begin promoting the Cadets as one of the participants as they continued their season by finishing with. 9-2 record.
And then the collective rest of the college football world let them down. Think about it … they let Army down. Doesn’t seem right, does it?
It’s one thing to let down a team who suffered through a miserable season and was going to mail in a bowl appearance with a half-ass effort. But this was 9-2 Army who had been looking forward to this for two months, especially after beating Navy last week.
All you need to know about Army is that even after the Independence Bowl announcement, the school was still trying to line up an opponent to play.
“These young men haven’t quit all year and we surely won’t quit now,” Army athletic director Mike Buddie said in a statement. “They deserve better. Period. They have earned an opportunity to get 10 wins and, as we have all year, we will continue to fight to get them that opportunity.”
It’s one thing for players to opt-out of bowl games. It may not be right, but it’s becoming more and more acceptable. Fans don’t like it because they think players have an obligation. But these schools are members of a conference, who have negotiated the best bowl deals possible for its member institutions. To let them walk away and leave bowls hanging just doesn’t seem right. There’s no obligation there?
Just like the players, these schools do it because they can. This isn’t like passing on a NIT berth in basketball. There’s a lot more at stake.
For the Independence Bowl, it was bad luck, bad timing in a bad year.
But most of all, it was a bad virus.
In the long run, maybe it will be for the best. But when Saturday comes along and Independence Stadium is quiet, it’s just not going to feel right. Beyond that, who knows?
But if there is one thing we have learned every year since 1976, don’t ever bet against the Independence Bowl