comscore University of Hawaii football team did all it could to play in bowl game | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

University of Hawaii football team did all it could to play in bowl game

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The University of Hawaii football team was willing to give it the ol’ college try.

Calvin Turner — who has been used as a wideout, slot receiver, running back, wildcat quarterback and returner — volunteered to also play cornerback. A defensive lineman who did not practice the entire regular season while his left arm was in a sling was medically cleared to play. Scout players who simulated opponents in practices all season were summoned, after two practices, to run UH’s schemes they had never run before, not even in game-week workouts.

But then the number of COVID-19 cases involving the Rainbow Warriors kept growing. Even after implementing isolation protocols for seemingly healthy players, 30 members of the football program had tested positive and were in quarantine. With only five available offensive linemen (none a starter) and the defensive line and secondary rocked with COVID-19 infections, UH officials decided on Thursday afternoon — 24 hours ahead of the Christmas Eve kickoff – that the Warriors would withdraw from the EasyPost Hawaii Bowl because of health and safety concerns.

A day after the announced secession, six more members of the UH program tested positive for COVID-19. With infections and more than 10 additional players opting out specifically for COVID-19-related reasons, the Warriors would have had fewer than 40 players available — many of whom had not played in an NCAA game.

UH athletic director David Matlin, who previously was executive director of the ESPN-owned Hawaii Bowl, expressed empathy for ESPN and bowl administrators, whom he praised for their work. But after reviewing data and an extensive report and recommendation from UH’s six-person medical team, of which he is a member, Matlin decided that pulling the Warriors was the only option. “We did our best to get the Hawaii Bowl in, but in the end, it was just not healthy or safe,” Matlin said.

The Hawaii Bowl pays each team a participation fee of $1.5 million, which is used mostly to reimburse teams for meals, hotel accommodations, transportation and other game-related expenses. If UH does not receive a participation fee, it would be stuck with the bill for the hotel rooms and transportation, as well as the food and expenses provided to the players from the Nov. 27 regular-season finale to the Dec. 19 start of bowl week. The status of the bowl bonuses for coaches has not been decided. Head coach Todd Graham and his staff did not accept bonuses for the Warriors’ participation in the 2020 New Mexico Bowl.

The Star-Advertiser has learned the outbreak can be traced to two gatherings more than a week ago. Some who attended the gatherings began to experience symptoms often related to COVID-19. Those players tested positive. UH began testing all players who experienced symptoms, then expanded testing to contact tracing, then to all people closely associated with the Warriors.

On Tuesday, with the total cases at about 20, UH went to 2020 protocols: mandated masking, socially distanced meetings, grab-and-go meals. The Warriors canceled their appearances at a bowl luau and banquet. Hawaii Bowl officials sent food from the luau and banquets to the Moana Surfrider, where UH was staying. The players ate their grab-and-go meals in their hotel rooms.

“After we added these protocols, we were encouraged and felt we could play,” Matlin said.

But there were three new cases on Tuesday, three more on Wednesday, and five on Thursday. In the 24-hour period ahead of the schedule Christmas Eve start, there were 11 positive tests. In addition, it is estimated between 10 and 15 players opted out on Wednesday specifically because of concerns about the coronavirus. The Warriors were left without any starting offensive lineman, a handful of defensive linemen, and no cornerbacks with starting experience. Among the infected was a player who had finalized a transfer to another school.

Since the pandemic heightened in March 2020, this is only the first time the Warriors did not play in a game because of COVID-related concerns or situations. Nearly all the UH players, coaches, and staff are fully vaccinated, with the exception of a few who received religious or health exemptions.

More UH football coverage

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