Holiday Bowl off: COVID hits UCLA on game day

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UCLA was forced to pull out of the Holiday Bowl only hours before Tuesday’s scheduled game against NC State in San Diego because of COVID-19 problems within the Bruins program.

The school announced its decision around 3:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

“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. “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.”

The Bruins and Wolfpack were scheduled to play at Petco Park at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

“UCLA’s statement makes it very clear that their inability to play was due to the protocols in place and not the virus itself,” Bowl Season executive director Nick Carparelli said in a text message to ESPN. “I feel bad for both teams as well as the great people at the Holiday Bowl who worked so hard all year long for today. This continues to be a very sad and frustrating situation.”

The Holiday Bowl is the fifth bowl game to be canceled because of COVID-19 issues with at least one of the participating teams, joining the Arizona Bowl, Hawai’i Bowl, Fenway Bowl and Military Bowl.

The Wolfpack, who were trying to win 10 games in a season for only the second time in the program’s history, are the fourth ACC team to have their bowl game canceled.

Though UCLA did have multiple players not make the trip to San Diego for COVID-19 reasons, NC State coach Dave Doeren said nobody at NC State knew UCLA was dealing with more COVID-19 issues once the Bruins arrived in town to begin preparations for the game. The first he heard about it was when his athletic director, Boo Corrigan, told him the game was off — only minutes before the news was reported on social media.

Doeren told a small gathering of reporters in San Diego he broke the news he had a team meeting, in which his players expressed anger, confusion and sadness.

“Felt lied to, to be honest,” Doeren said. “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 added he didn’t know whether it would be logistically possible to try and find a new opponent to play a game.

“I’m still like, ‘Is this happening?'” Doeren said. “I don’t want this to diminish what happened here this year. This was an unfair thing that happened, and like all other unfair things there’s not going to be a rationale that makes it feel good. We’re going to have to deal with it and get ready for what’s next.”

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson contributed to this report.

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