JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When Texas A&M withdrew from next week’s TaxSlayer Gator Bowl because of COVID-19 issues, bowl officials were left to quickly find a replacement to face Wake Forest (10-3) on Dec. 31 at TIAA Bank Field.
According to early reports from NJ.com, Rutgers (5-7) was set to replace the Aggies, but Gator Bowl Sports president Greg McGarity told The Morning Show on Thursday that things were far from settled.
He said Wednesday that a new team would need to be in place within 48 hours for the game to go on as scheduled. That included looking at 5-7 teams or teams that have already competed in a bowl game.
“I certainly wouldn’t take that to the bank right now,” McGarity said Thursday morning of the reports swirling about Rutgers. “First of all, no official contact from Rutgers. We didn’t hear anything from them yesterday. We have heard from others that are interested in playing.”
Since then, however, the Scarlet Knights answered the call for a last-second invitation to the bowl game
Some of the others in consideration included the University of Illinois — which happens to be Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s alma mater.
Rutgers had the highest Academic Progress Rate, according to College Football News, among the 5-7 teams in consideration. That can be used as bowl qualifying criteria for sub-.500 teams going to a bowl game.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but there’s a lot of work that went on in a very short amount of time yesterday,” McGarity said. “We’re working our rear ends off to make it all happen.”
It was a fluid Wednesday after A&M announced it was withdrawing from the game due to a COVID-19 outbreak that left it with barely three dozen scholarship players.
The NCAA Oversight Committee had the final word on who would be eligible to play and who would be selected for the Gator Bowl as a replacement team.
“It’s really critical to us. It’s so critical to the community because a lot of people depend on this to make their annual budget. It showcases Jacksonville, it showcases the great things we have to offer, and it’s a great time slot —11 a.m. in the morning on New Year’s Eve Day,” McGarity said. “So a lot of things on the line here.”
According to the Taxslayer Gator Bowl website, the annual bowl game drives between $14 million and $16 million to Northeast Florida businesses and more than $500,000 is also donated to local charities.