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Army, with a 9-2 record, cut out of college football bowl picture

The Black Knights currently don’t have a bowl game to play in.

NCAA Football: Air Force at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

After the College Football Playoff field was announced Sunday afternoon, teams began opting out of playing an extra game and bowls started getting canceled.

As the day wore on, the bowl picture kept getting cloudier for Army.

And at the end of the day, it became apparent that the Black Knights — which finished the season as C.I.C. champs and with a 9-2 record — were being cut out of the bowl season. And that’s lame and disappointing, and especially unfortunate for Army’s senior cadets, many of whom will never play another snap of competitive football ever again.

“We had guys in tears,” Army head coach Jeff Monken told ESPN. “... They’re looking forward to playing in a bowl game one time together, before they go off in the United States Army, and we’re sitting here telling them, ‘Sorry, guys, you can’t play.’

“You can talk about a playoff system and people bitching about they’re not a top-four team, ‘Oh, we should be in.’ All we want is a bowl game. All we want is a chance to play.”

It’s extremely whack that Army isn’t playing in a bowl, but 2-8 South Carolina and 3-7 Mississippi State are.

Back in October, Army was the first FBS team to accept a bowl invitation, agreeing to play in the Independence Bowl after improving to 6-1 with a win over Mercer.

But that bowl game — held in Shreveport, Louisiana — was scrapped Sunday after a series of opt-outs by Pac-12 teams. Organizers of the bowl game said in a statement that “the opting out of possible teams created a lack of teams available to play in bowl games.”

There’s a couple of big reasons why this happened to Army:

  1. There’s still a pandemic. A lot of players want to go home and spend the holidays with their families. This season, playing in some bowl game is way down on the list of priorities for players. In the midst of COVID-19, an eagerness to play in these games has dwindled as players have been isolated for the season. Several teams let players vote on whether or not to play in a bowl, and many of them decided against it.
  2. Bowl games and the teams that play in them make a lot of their money from ticket sales. In most places, capacities at stadiums have been drastically reduced and the TV money isn’t enough to make up for the loss in ticket revenue. Also, a lot of schools don’t want to pony-up the cash this year to send their teams to places like Shreveport for an extra game. Some schools would — and will — lose money by playing in a bowl game this season.
  3. Most bowl games have contractual agreements with conferences to fill their bowl slots. The Military Bowl is the ACC vs. the AAC. The Duke’s Mayo Bowl is the ACC vs. the Big Ten. The New Orleans Bowl is CUSA vs. the Sun Belt. Army only had an agreement with the Independence Bowl. Since it doesn’t belong in a conference, there was no built-in option for the Black Knights to fall back on.

“The bottom line is there were enough people who kept saying, ‘No, we don’t want to play Army,” Monken told ESPN.

Despite this, Army is still working on getting in a game. How that happens remains to be seen.

“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.”

One option that surfaced Sunday night seemed to be the Military Bowl, held in Annapolis. The president of the bowl, Steve Beck, said they would happily host Army if they could find an opponent. But, on Monday morning, that bowl game threw in the towel too, canceling it for this season.

The lone chance left for Army to play in a bowl seems to be this: If a team that has already accepted a bid decides to bow out late, Army could fill their slot.

Should that scenario arise, the Black Knights have to be prepared to play anyone, anytime, anywhere if they really want to play in a bowl.

“If we got a Dec. 31 bowl game, if you call us on the 29th, we’ll have those guys flying there on the 30th,” Monken told ESPN.