COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS — Texas A&M has officially withdrawn from the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, citing COVID-19 infections among players, as well as several injuries.
Ross Bjork, Texas A&M's athletic director, issued this statement early Wednesday afternoon:
“It is heartbreaking for our players, coaches, staff and fans that we are not able to play in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Post-season football is the pinnacle of the season and when the opportunity is lost, it hurts on many levels. As we have learned in the last 21 months of this health challenge, the well-being and safety of our student-athletes is paramount..."
Originally the Aggies would have traveled to Jacksonville this Sunday, in order to prepare for the New Year’s Eve game against Wake Forest University.
Local Aggie fans expressed their disappointment, but were understanding of the decision.
“If a lot of the players are sick because they have COVID, I think it’s probably safer not to do something overly physical," said Harrison Mace, recent A&M graduate. "I mean, it still doesn’t make it any less sad.”
A representative of Aggie merchandise seller, Aggieland Outfitters, noted that plenty of their customers bought outfits to wear to the game.
“All in all, we want our boys to be healthy, and for everybody to stay safe," said Jake Zamora, assistant director of retail operations for Aggieland Outfitters. "We have the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, so really excited to see what Jimbo and the guys can do. We’re looking forward to a very positive, very fruitful 2022.”
Now, only time will tell how Wake Forest and the Gator Bowl will move forward with less than two weeks to go.
Gator Bowl President Greg McGarity said A&M fans only bought about 3,000 tickets, and he plans to have a refund option for those ticket holders.
Multiple entities, including the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl and ACC, are searching for a replacement opponent to face Wake Forest University.
“The time frame is very difficult," McGarity said. "You’ve got teams that haven’t been practicing. You’ve got a lot of dynamics and kids that are everywhere, not on campus. So it’s a challenge to try to get a team together, much less start practicing again.”
While he doesn’t blame Texas A&M for their withdrawal, McGarity said a cancellation of this event would be a huge financial loss for the bowl.