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Holiday Bowl is in a bind with Gophers boycott

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota has put the Holiday Bowl in a bind. Gophers football players on Thursday declared a boycott on all football activities until 10 suspended teammates are reinstated to the team. That includes the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, ...

Nov 5, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys looks on during pre game warmups before a game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys looks on during pre game warmups before a game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota has put the Holiday Bowl in a bind.

Gophers football players on Thursday declared a boycott on all football activities until 10 suspended teammates are reinstated to the team. That includes the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, where Minnesota (8-4) is scheduled to play Washington State (8-4) on Dec. 27.

In making Thursday's announcement from the U's Gibson-Nagurski football complex, team spokesman Drew Wolitarsky asked Holiday Bowl reps to be patient while players work out an agreement with school president Eric Kaler and athletics director Mark Coyle, who suspended the players after a school investigation into an alleged sexual assault on Sept. 2.

The Holiday Bowl doesn't have the luxury of patience.

"Out of respect to the Holiday Bowl Committee, we should let them know soon whether we intend to carry through with our acceptance of their invitation," Minnesota president Eric Kaler and athletics director Mark Coyle said in a joint statement released Friday evening.

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While there is a list of teams that could replace the Gophers, led by Northern Illinois (5-7), any replacement team would be playing with only a week of practice after almost a month off. The Huskies' last game was Nov. 25, a 31-21 victory over Mid-America Conference rival Kent State.

It's unclear whether any team would be willing to play on that schedule. In addition, bowl games need to sell tickets and hotel rooms, some of which already have been claimed by Minnesota and its fans.

"We're aware of the situation, that we're next up, so to speak," Northern Illinois athletics department spokesman Donna Turner said Friday evening. "But as far as talking to the Holiday Bowl or anything, we haven't done that."

The Huskies would be allowed to play as a five-win team because there are no more available teams with six victories, the official threshold for bowl eligibility. The NCAA then ranks 5-7 teams by their Academic Progress Rate, which earned the Gophers a berth in the last season's Quick Lane Bowl.

Kaler and Coyle said they reached out to Gophers players through a football coach but were denied a chance to meet and discuss the boycott.

"I am hopeful that members of our football team will meet with us ... so we can have a dialogue about an issue that is clearly important to them and the University community as a whole," administrators' statement read. "While the 10 players are suspended from active participation in the football program, they remain members of the team and students at the University of Minnesota."

Northern Illinois has an APR of 970, followed by Arizona State and California, each at 960. Turner said Northern Illinois has not decided whether it would accept an invitation. "That would be part of discussions we have as we monitor the situation," she said.

Beyond the practice situation, rounding up nearly 100 players who already have left campus for winter break would be difficult. Arizona State, which lost its last five games this season, and Cal are Pac-12 rivals of Washington State that already have lost to the Cougars this season.

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On the surface, it was business as usual Friday for the Holiday Bowl, which has been played annually since 1978 and routinely features the nation's best teams. Last year, Wisconsin beat Southern Cal 23-21 in the game.

"We are aware of the player boycott at the University of Minnesota and have been kept apprised on this ongoing situation," Holiday Bowl executive director Mark Neville said in a statement released Friday. "The Holiday Bowl is one of the nation's great bowl games and we remain focused on the preparations."

It's unclear whether Minnesota would be financially liable if it pulled out of the game. The payout this season is $2.82 million, although bowl payouts traditionally are spent entirely on travel and lodging for the team, band and administrators.

The Gophers would be on the hook for unsold tickets from their allotment, but that's the case in every bowl game. Presumably, that would not change if they declined to play.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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