With Texas A&M officially exiting the Gator Bowl due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, and Rutgers reportedly the frontrunner to replace the Aggies’ bowl appearance against Wake Forest, the surge in COVID cases across the country is drawing some uncertainty on Bowl season.
While the Gator Bowl isn’t a New Year’s Six bowl, it’s one of the larger draws of the Bowl season, and Texas A&M-Wake Forest was a strong SEC-ACC tie. So, the CFP Management Committee recommended some changes to help protect the NY6 Bowls this season, and they’ve been implemented.
𝗢𝗙𝗙𝗜𝗖𝗜𝗔𝗟: The CFP Management Committee today announced a series of new actions it will take to protect student-athlete health and safety as the omicron virus has spread in advance of the College Football Playoff.
— College Football Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) December 22, 2021
The College Football Playoff is the main point of concern, but the Peach and Fiesta Bowl have also received some new policies in order to protect student-athlete health and safety.
In the event that either Pitt and Michigan State cannot field a team due to COVID, the CFP, Peach Bowl and ESPN will have a week to find a time to reschedule the game. If the game cannot be scheduled within a week, the game will be considered a no contest.
Additionally, both Pitt and Wake Forest will have the option to travel to Atlanta no later than two days before the Peach Bowl, instead of the usual five days. All Peach Bowl-related activities and events are optional for student-athletes, coaching staff, bands and spirit squads.
Any media interaction will be virtual, sideline access before, during and after the Peach Bowl will be restricted to essential personnel only (no friends and family, Peach Bowl “special guests” or sponsors) and Pitt and Michigan State will return to regular season testing procedures.
Both athletic directors and chief medical officers must certify that every person who will have access to the field on game day from their respective schools has tested negative for COVID within 72 hours of kickoff or has been fully vaccinated.
Peach Bowl, Inc. CEO and president Gary Stokan joined Yahoo Finance to discuss some of the challenges the Peach Bowl has faced due to the surge of COVID-19.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan just told us @YahooFinance that the matchup between Michigan State and Pittsburgh could be pushed back a week if a team has a COVID-19 issues. It was discussed among a group of New Year’s Six execs.
— Josh Schafer (@_JoshSchafer) December 22, 2021
“(Pitt players will) spend a few days, and then Christmas afternoon, we will all meet,” Pat Narduzzi said Wednesday. “I think we have 49 players leaving from here on a plane. Everybody else, if they’re from Atlanta or Florida or Utah or Kansas City, will fly in on Christmas afternoon and we’ll meet in Atlanta and continue Bowl preparation down.”
Pitt is allowing players to head home for the holiday, but Narduzzi and the Pitt staff have stressed the importance of safety to the team — to both the group staying in the Pittsburgh area and the group heading home for the holiday. Narduzzi pointed to Alabama’s breakout ahead of the CFP, with players allowed to head home before the holidays, as the impact that spreading out even for a period can have.
“Yeah, I mean, you certainly worry about it,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve tried to educate them about wearing their masks and taking care of themselves and going home to see their families — not going home to see your buddies. Don’t be running around seeing your old high school buddies, you don’t know where they’ve been.”
With Pitt planning on meeting in Atlanta on Dec. 25, Narduzzi said Pitt will trust the team to make smart decisions.
“So, we gotta trust our guys to go home, be smart and come to Atlanta as safe as possible,” Narduzzi said.
The Peach Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 30 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN.