Hawai’i withdraws from its own bowl game amid COVID concerns, first cancellation of 2021-22 bowl season

The first bowl of the 2021-22 college football season was officially canceled Thursday when Hawai’i had to withdraw from its own bowl due to, among other things, COVID issues within the Rainbow Warriors program.

The Rainbow Warriors were hosting Memphis in the Hawai’i Bowl and were slated to play the Tigers Friday night, but due to COVID, as well as transfers and injuries, couldn’t pull it off.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes is the most important part of this decision,” Hawai’i athletic director David Matlin said in a statement. “The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has forced us to not participate in the game. We want to thank the Memphis Tigers for making the long trip to Hawai’i. We are disappointed we can’t compete on the football field.”

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The reason Hawai’i is so shorthanded isn’t just because of your run of the mill transfers, though.

The team’s starting quarterback, Chevan Cordeiro, and leading rusher, Dae Dae Hunter, both left the program as the headliners of a mass exodus after reports surfaced detailing alleged verbal and emotional mistreatment by Hawai’i coach Todd Graham, who in his other Division I stops, was known as a “disciplinarian.”

As a result of not playing in the bowl game, Graham is missing out on a possible $60,000 bonus — $20,000 for competing in the game and $40,000 had Hawai’i won the game. 

Cordeiro committed to San Jose State and Hunter committed to Liberty after leading Hawai’i to a 6-7 record, with a signature win against then-No. 18 Fresno State.

Memphis, meanwhile, finished 6-6 under Ryan Silverfield this year after finishing 8-3 last season. His team was already in Hawai’i when the annoucnement was made. The Tigers were already going to be without defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, who left to take the head coaching job at FIU.

“We hope that Hawai’i players and staff get healthy soon,” Silverfield said in a statement. “I’m upset for our seniors and the rest of the team that battled this season to earn this opportunity. We’ve had [a] terrific time here in Hawai’i as a program and we are sad our trip ended this way.”

Among those seniors who will miss out is star receiver Calvin Austin III, who’s been the Tigers’ leading receiver in each of the last two seasons, while leading the conference in yards last year and finishing second this year.

So far, the other 14 bowl games that preceded the Hawai’i Bowl were played without issue. However, Hawai’i became the second team to pull out of a bowl game after No. 25 Texas A&M withdrew from the Gator Bowl against No. 17 Wake Forest. The Aggies will be replaced by Rutgers in that bowl game.

Sixteen bowl games were canceled last year because of the pandemic.

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