A day after the announcement that Texas A&M’s football team was withdrawing from the December 31 Gator Bowl due to COVID and injury-related issues, the NCAA announced Thursday that it would allow another team to fill the now-empty slot to face Wake Forest, with Rutgers first in line according to the existing policy.
Rutgers, which finished 5-7 this season, would be allowed to participate in the game through an NCAA policy that allows teams with sub-.500 records to play in bowl games if there are not enough teams with at least six wins to fill the available spots in bowl games.
Once the policy is enacted, teams with the highest Academic Progress Rate scores get the first opportunity to fill the spot, and the NCAA said Rutgers is at the top of that list among 5-7 teams.
The NCAA football oversight committee decided to enact the policy Thursday after Texas A&M announced in a statement Wednesday that because of COVID positives, injury issues and players opting out of the bowl game or transferring schools, they would not be able to field a full team of scholarship players to compete in the game.
Following the announcement, Wake Forest athletic director John Currie said at least five teams had already reached out to the school about replacing the Aggies as an opponent in the Jacksonville, Florida, bowl game.
The NCAA committee also announced Thursday that any bowl game with similar issues could be rescheduled as late as January 10 so the original teams have a chance to stay in the bowl game.
Rutgers is atop the Academic Progress Rate list, though the NCAA did not release the full APR rankings to allow schools to privately decline a bowl bid.
Neither Rutgers nor the Gator Bowl confirmed that the school’s Scarlet Knights would be playing in the game or even if it would still be played on December 31.
Having Rutgers replace Texas A&M on short notice was not a foregone conclusion for the oversight committee—even after Rutgers officials informed decision-makers on Wednesday that they believed the team could be reassembled quickly.
The Scarlet Knights have not played since Thanksgiving weekend, and the team has not been practicing or working out together.
There was some concern among oversight committee members about the safety of having a team compete with barely a week to prepare and at least some consideration given to having a team that already has played a bowl facing Wake Forest, or simply not filling the spot and canceling the game.
Ultimately, the committee chose to adhere as closely as possible to existing policy under unusual circumstances.
If Rutgers accepts the opportunity, it will be making its first bowl appearance since 2014, its first season as a member of the Big Ten Conference.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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