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Las Vegas Bowl Officials Keeping Fingers Crossed That Game Will Go Off As Planned

James Murphy
by in NCAAF on
  • The Las Vegas Bowl is hoping that Thursday’s game between Wisconsin and Arizona State at Allegiant Stadium will be played as scheduled.
  • As of this writing, five bowl games have been cancelled due to COVID-19 related issues with teams involved.
  • This will be the first Las Vegas Bowl played at Allegiant Stadium, home of the NFL Las Vegas Raiders.

At the time this article is being written it looks good for Thursday’s Las Vegas Bowl to be played as scheduled. But as Brad Pitt noted in the Ocean’s Eleven reboot “In this town your luck can change just that fast.” When bowl organizers booked a matchup between Arizona State and Wisconsin and announced it on December 5, they thought they had a legit chance of a sellout in the expansive Allegiant Stadium. They’ve since dialed back their goals significantly as the resurgence of COVID-19 courtesy of the omicron variant has made a mockery of the current college football bowl season. Now they’ll consider it a success if the game goes off as scheduled. The kickoff for the Las Vegas Bowl is set for 7:30 PM Pacific with Wisconsin a -6 point favorite and the total at 41.

The teams involved haven’t been completely spared from COVID-19 related issues any more than they have ‘garden variety’ college football injuries, but as of last check the situation is manageable. Of course, that’s what North Carolina State thought about the COVID situation faced by their Holiday Bowl opponent UCLA. The first indication that NC State officials had that something was amiss came when UCLA bailed on the game just hours before kickoff. A reprise of this fiasco is likely what Las Vegas Bowl organizers would consider ‘worst case scenario’. Best case scenario? The game is played as planned before a reasonably sized crowd. No one expects to sell out 65,000 seat Allegiant Stadium but officials are hoping that they can break the all time LV Bowl attendance record of 44,615. Were the ‘attendance record’ prop on the board I’d probably take the ‘Under’ based on broader Las Vegas visitation trends.

How likely *is* the ‘downside risk’ of either or both teams withdrawing and/or the game being cancelled? The current party line is that ‘all is well’ and the vibe is that the game will at least be played. On the other hand, there are some potentially ominous signs present assuming you look for them. Plus the chance of a UCLA-esque ‘screwjob’ can’t be dismissed entirely. For Wisconsin, the highest profile COVID-19 case doesn’t involve a player–it would be school athletic director Chris McIntosh who tested positive for the virus on December 23 and didn’t travel with the team to Las Vegas. It doesn’t look like Arizona State has a significant COVID issue at present–though both teams are being maddeningly vague about the reality of their situation. That’s been a pervasive trend throughout this bowl season with schools using ‘student privacy’ as a cover. ‘Student privacy’ is a flimsy justification, particularly when used to justify not even talking about COVID positives in general terms.

In fact, the *lack* of information about any COVID related issues–other than Wisconsin AD McIntosh–is unsettling. It looks like a bigger issue for both teams are injuries along with ‘opt-outs’ and transfers but that is tough to assess. ESPN doesn’t have any information about COVID issues but they long ago made the decision to prioritize the bowl promotion business over journalistic legitimacy. A look at the Don Best screen shows no specific indications of COVID though there are plenty of players on the injury report with ‘Undisclosed’. Six Arizona State players are listed in this manner along with 11 Wisconsin players. The ‘Notes’ on these players are all similar to this one on ASU defensive back Willie Hurts who is listed as ‘Questionable’ for the Las Vegas Bowl:

Harts is tending to a unknown issue, and it remains to be seen if he will play in the Las Vegas Bowl versus Wisconsin.

I’ve had an ‘unknown issue’ and, believe me, it hurts like hell. Don Best has generally done a good job during the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic but with every indication that coaches and administrators aren’t always forthright with their situation they can’t hope to report all of the relevant information. The sudden outbreak of ‘Undisclosed’ involves a total of 17 players and those are just the ones that are being reported. Throw in a few legit COVID cases and that’s a pretty significant portion of the teams’ rosters. Of course, since there’s zero transparency on anything including what threshold of tests would necessitate a cancellation who really knows?

Las Vegas Bowl executive director John Saccenti gave this upbeat assessment earlier today:

“A couple weeks ago when this all started, we really didn’t think we’d be in this position and we didn’t think we’d see some games canceled, but I can tell you we’re pretty confident right now we’re going to get it going. The teams have done a phenomenal job keeping their players together.”

I get the vibe that Saccenti is ‘shooting straight’, at least based on the information he has. One important lesson learned in the past couple of days is that bowl organizers and sponsors are decidedly not guaranteed to be ‘in the loop’ as it relates to the COVID situation even though they’re left holding the bag if the game doesn’t get played. He’s also offering this ‘glass half full’ view of the omicron variant’s impact on fans traveling in for the game:

“As much as it’s affected some of the traveling fans, locally I think the exact opposite. People are not leaving town like they had originally expected or anticipated, and so they’re like, ‘Let’s go check out the game now.’ So we picked up a little more locally than I would have expected at this point.”

I’ve gained a newfound respect for bowl organizers during this bizarre ‘postseason’ and certain with Saccenti no ill will. That said, I’ve spent much of my adult life in Las Vegas. They’ve been playing the Las Vegas Bowl every year since 1992 and I’ve not once had someone ask me if I’d like to attend. I’ve also never heard a ‘local’ say that they’re going to attend or have attended the Las Vegas Bowl. Keep in mind that my perspective might be atypical–the people I usually associate with don’t like to be anywhere they can only watch and/or follow one sporting event at a time. A check of the event listings in Las Vegas does show a significant ‘lull’ on December 30 after a busy 29th and before the madness of New Year’s Eve. Maybe Saccenti is on to something. Then again, a ‘slow night’ in Las Vegas still provides a myriad of diversionary options.

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