First, we learned that WSU was headed to the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl to face Miami. Then, COVID issues with the Hurricanes put that into doubt. Then, Miami reaffirmed their commitment to the game, announcing that they would travel 24 hours before kickoff. Then, just hours after WSU landed in El Paso, Miami pulled out of the game due to those same COVID issues and things looked bleak once again for the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.
We know now, of course, that WSU will take on Central Michigan this Friday. But that wasn’t always clear, and things had to come together in a hurry after the Arizona Bowl was canceled due to Boise State’s COVID issues.
“We were here almost two hours to the minute when we got the call from Miami that they wouldn’t be able to be our opponent.” Pat Chun told the media Tuesday in a press conference in El Paso. “We ended up in the place we needed to be in. When they say partnership with bowls, I think this is what’s been lived out in the last two days. It’s a true partnership. We were 100% committed to the Sun Bowl and 100% committed to El Paso.”
“When Miami called us it was literally right after they got off the airplane,” said Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas. “We started looking. We started calling. Then, we heard that Boise State might be having some COVID problems... When they finally tested and had too many players with COVID, then we knew that there was a team looking for an opponent. [Central Michigan] was just up the street and, you know, in El Paso, 400 miles is just up the street. We contacted them and contacted the commissioners to see if we could strike a deal for them to come to El Paso. It took a while, but we got it done.”
“We were making as many calls as possible trying to figure out what opponents would be available,” Chun said on his process. “Bernie was basically camped out in our hotel yesterday as we’re talking through all the phone calls and all the rumors. There were schools out there acting like they wanted to play that had no intention of playing just to add some bravado to their own programs. The reality was that Central Michigan was going to be the only option.”
Once the news came out that Boise State was withdrawing from their Arizona Bowl matchup with CMU, a tweet from Dave Portnoy, the president of Arizona Bowl title sponsor Barstool Sports raised some eyebrows. Portnoy suggested that WSU poll the football team and ask whether they would rather play in Tucson or El Paso. Once the cancelation was finalized, Portnoy took to Twitted once again, suggested he tried to convince WSU to play in the Arizona Bowl instead adding “WSU said Sun Bowl or nothing.”
“We made it clear we were 100% committed to the Sun Bowl,” Chun said, addressing that report. “We did have one conversation with [the Arizona Bowl], but it was really a communication to allow them to plan without Washington State being an option for them.”
Of course, it probably helped that the Pac-12 has a long standing relationship with the Sun Bowl. It probably helped even more that the Sun Bowl game is nationally televised on CBS with a payout more than $4.2 million higher than the Arizona Bowl on YouTube.
Olivas mentioned that the game is important, obviously, for the Sun Bowl association. But he also talked about why the event is crucial for the city itself, especially after the game was called off in 2020. The Sun Bowl is likely the biggest economic event in the city all year, but it does a lot more for the image of the west Texas city as well.
“Most of the time, when El Paso is in the national news, it’s usually not good. But, for four hours, CBS is going to do a tremendous job to promote our city.”
The press conference on Tuesday was scheduled to feature coordinators from both teams. Obviously, WSU is studying a new opponent and CMU won’t even arrive until Thursday, so that wasn’t possible. And while things will look a little different as far as bowl week goes, the Cougs were able to hit the field to gameplan for CMU. Chun says it was a nice change of pace for the 2021 Cougar football team.
“Today is really the first normal day of the bowl week,” Chun said on Tuesday, “for Washington State and the year we had, a normal day is a good day for us.”
The Sun Bowl kicks off on New Year’s Eve at 9 a.m. pacific time on CBS.
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