EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The on-again, off-again Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game in 2020 is in limbo.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its tole on college football and while officials at the Sun Bowl Association are pressing forward with a football game on Thursday, Dec. 31, there is still a lot up in the air.
“We are moving forward and planning on having our game on December 31st, noon kickoff,” said Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas. “The safety of everyone is of the utmost concern and the top priority for everyone right now.”
Olivas told KTSM in August the Sun Bowl would be canceled with the Pac-12 postponing their football season, however, the league decided to resume play in November. The decision put both the Sun Bowl’s league members (ACC and Pac-12) in play, which is why Olivas announced in September the game was back on.
However, with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising in El Paso, there have been reservations from several schools about coming to the Sun City and playing the hometown Miners at Sun Bowl Stadium. In fact, just last week, UTEP announced they were moving their home game against UAB on Nov. 20 to Midland, Texas. The game was ultimately canceled after an outbreak on the UAB football team.
The Sun Bowl, which is the second-oldest bowl game in the country behind the Rose Bowl, has no plans to relocate, even if it means the game would be canceled.
“I don’t think we would move it out of El Paso,” said Olivas. “If things got really bad, we would just not play it this year, but as of right now, we’re excited about putting it on.”
According to Olivas, the plan is to have limited fans in the stands. In UTEP’s first two home games of the season, Sun Bowl Stadium was filled to 18% capacity (roughly 8,600 fans). The stadium holds just over 46,000 fans for a football game.
If there is a Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game in 2020, it would certainly look and feel a lot different leading up to kickoff. Schools typically arrive a week in advance and enjoy numerous activities that give the student-athletes and coaches a taste of El Paso. From the mariachis greeting them at the El Paso International Airport, trips to the El Paso Children’s Hospital, Fort Bliss, Cattleman’s Steakhouse, and Fan Fest — those traditions would likely be scrapped as schools will elect to be placed in a bubble.
“It’s great to see fans and for them to come into town and really experience the friendship and hospitality of El Paso,” said Sun Bowl football committee chairman John Folmer. “To not have that is big, but to not have the game is a lot bigger.”
The ACC and Pac-12 are testing student-athletes, coaches, and support staff members for COVID-19 three times per week this season. The individual conferences cover the costs of those tests, however, the Sun Bowl Association will be responsible for testing once the two selected schools arrive in town.
Fiscal details are still being worked out by the leagues and the Sun Bowl Association, but the focus remains on the player experience.
“It’ll be more like a business trip for the game, but we want to supply a game for the football teams and give them an opportunity to have a bowl game,” said Olivas.
Just 46 days remain until kickoff and while officials remain optimistic for kickoff in 2020, they are also preparing for anything and everything that comes their way. That is 2020 in a nutshell.