Brant Ringler had no choice but to send the Boise State and Boston College football teams home unsatisfied Wednesday afternoon at Cotton Bowl Stadium.
And that lack of options was the problem.
It was known for several days, at least, that thunderstorms were expected to strike the Dallas area on Wednesday afternoon and potentially disrupt the First Responder Bowl — yet there was no contingency plan to make sure the game was played.
In a massive, football-crazed metro area with many venues that could handle the 8,000-10,000 people who showed up for Wednesday’s game — including at least a couple with roofs — playing anywhere but Cotton Bowl Stadium wasn’t considered. Changing the game time, or perhaps even the date, wasn’t considered until it was too late.
Instead, organizers allowed the Broncos and Eagles to begin a game that had no chance of finishing. They played 9 minutes, 52 seconds before lightning delayed play. The teams spent 1 hour, 21 minutes waiting in their locker rooms for the signal to resume.
With an ever larger storm on the way, Ringler — the executive director of the bowl game — canceled the game because it was clear more lightning would be in the area and heavy rain would continue to blanket the stadium into the evening (and it did).
Boston College led 7-0, but officially the game never happened — it’s a “no contest.” It’s the first time in the century-plus history of Division I college football bowl games that one was canceled because of weather.
“We all started with the idea of how do we make this work,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said of a meeting held during the delay. “And then it was the question of not how, we know how, it’s just when. That became the biggest factor. ... We just can’t wait that long.”
The only way to prevent the cancellation would have been a proactive approach to the weather forecast. Instead, Ringler hoped the storm would miss the stadium, or perhaps force a limited delay.
“It was never the intention to move the game or anything like that,” Ringler said. “Usually the weather does play out in the favor of the bowl being played.”
Once the game started, options were limited because of player-safety concerns. But before it started, the First Responder Bowl could have looked at alternative times (Boise State once played a game at 9 a.m.), dates (it’s supposed to be sunny Thursday) and venues. All would have been logistical nightmares but better than the first cancellation in Division I bowl history.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Ringler said. “I think it would be very, very hard to reschedule it.”
At least that would have been possible. Continuing Wednesday’s game was not.
Lightning strikes were visible from the press box in the area surrounding the stadium during the delay. The weather seemed to improve shortly before the cancellation was announced, and Ringler estimated the teams could have played another 5-10 minutes of game action after warming up before likely having to stop again.
But in a meeting that included both coaches, both athletic directors, representatives of the ACC, Mountain West and TV partner/game owner ESPN and stadium operations staff, the severity of the weather headed toward the stadium was clear.
“We kind of went around and asked the right questions,” Harsin said. “Now we’re all trying to be weathermen.”
The message was that the next band of storms would be worse, and stay longer, than the first. The game was called at 2:20 p.m. Central — and, five hours later, thunder and pounding rain still could be heard outside the media center.
“If you look at the weather report for the next three, four hours, it looks like a storm larger than the one we just delayed the game for,” Ringler said 40 minutes after the game was canceled, as thunder roared overhead. “The lightning strikes were not just random but throughout the entire storm and they were coming straight at us.”
Boston College coach Steve Addazio and Harsin spoke of the physical challenges players would have faced in a delay that could have lasted six or more hours — from food to athletic taping to restarting their finely tuned bodies. The Broncos were prepared for a delay, with players snacking and hydrating during the break, but not for an endless one.
“It’s not just that easy, to say we’ll play it at 7 o’clock tonight,” Addazio said of resuming the game much later. “... I’m not a scientist, but there are stats on this. Your rate of injury goes up substantially.”
Addazio, Harsin and Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey supported the bowl’s decision — and they stressed that the players’ safety was the foremost factor.
Which is admirable.
But who was thinking about the players on Monday and Tuesday, when plans could have been made to ensure this didn’t happen? The Broncos spent three and a half weeks preparing for this game; the Eagles spent a month.
For all the talk about “meaningless” bowl games, a win here would have meant a great deal to either program. Boise State (10-3) wanted to send out quarterback Brett Rypien and his fellow seniors with a win and secure a Top 25 finish; Boston College (7-5) wanted to build momentum for 2019 after ending the regular season with three straight losses.
Instead, everyone spent Christmas in Dallas for a bowl game that never actually happened — except on future trivia cards.
“It sucks,” said Rypien, whose four-year starting career ended waiting out a storm. “That’s the only way you can put it. You fly all the way down here and, unfortunately, the weather wasn’t good enough.”
Nor was the planning.