In a stunning turn of events to close out this college football season, Army will not be playing in a bowl game despite an impressive 9-2 record and a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Independence Bowl. On Sunday, it was announced that the Independence Bowl has been canceled due to "a lack of teams available to play" against Army.
There have already been 22 teams that opted out of being in contention for bowl games, and 16 bowls including the Independence have been canceled.
The Black Knights were set to face a Pac-12 team on Saturday, Dec. 26. It will be the first time the Independence Bowl will not be played in 45 years.
"We had guys in tears," Army coach Jeff Monken said in an interview with ESPN. "We pulled off the biggest wins of these seniors' career, they just won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy back, that's going to be their legacy, and they're looking forward to playing in a bowl game one time together, before they go off in the United States Army, and we're sitting here telling them, 'Sorry, guys, you can't play.'
"You can talk about a playoff system and people bitching about they're not a top-four team, 'Oh, we should be in.' All we want is a bowl game. All we want is a chance to play."
Part of the reason that Army will end up getting snubbed is because of a lack of another potential destination for the Black Knights. Other bowl games have contractual agreements with teams and conferences and get locked into a lack of flexibility, as Stadium's Brett McMurphy explained.
As a result, a number of teams that finished with worse records than Army -- and even some with losing records -- will get spots in bowl games while Army is forced to bring its season to a premature end.
Of course, this is Army we're dealing with, so if you expected it to go down without a fight, you're mistaken. The school released a statement Sunday evening saying the Black Knights want the opportunity to play in a bowl this season.
"These young men haven't quit all year, and we surely won't quit now," said athletic director Mike Buddie. "They deserve better. Period. They have earned an opportunity to get 10 wins and, as we have all year, we will continue to fight to get them that opportunity.
"We want to thank all the constituents at the Independence Bowl for their invitation and hospitality as we were looking forward to our trip to the city of Shreveport."
Army is coming off a big 15-0 win over Navy in their annual showdown on Dec. 12, then a 10-7 win over Air Force to capture the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy last weekend. Monken also noted that his team will be ready to fill in for any team that falls out for COVID-19 issues should a bowl call him. He said they could be ready in two days.
"If we got a Dec. 31 bowl game, if you call us on the 29th, we'll have those guys flying there on the 30th," Monken said. "What I'm hoping is some of these bowl games, when they hear enough of this about Army, they're going to say, 'You know what? If somebody cancels, we're going to take Army. We're going to be the knight in shining armor and we're going to look like a hero taking this team.'"