Tensions are high after Tuesday's Holiday Bowl was called off last-minute, with NC State head coach Dave Doeren telling reporters he feels "lied to" by UCLA.
The Bruins and Wolfpack were scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday in San Diego. But UCLA withdrew Tuesday afternoon citing "COVID-19 protocols within the Bruins’ program." UCLA was the seventh program to withdraw from a bowl game this season amid the nationwide Omicron COVID-19 spike.
Doeren, whose team traveled across the country and was due a $3.2 million payout for playing in the game, didn't take the news well.
Dave Doeren speaks after Holiday Bowl game was canceled after before today’s kickoff. pic.twitter.com/x4moGWjsM0
— David Thompson (@daveth89) December 28, 2021
"I thought it was fake news, to be honest," Doeren told reporters at his San Diego hotel's ball room. "Our team's done everything right. We have 100% of our team vaccinated. ... We were prepared to play this game. Our opponent wasn't apparently.
"So it's disappointing. A lot went into the finish of the season and a 10th win. We would have won the game. There's no doubt about it, the way our guys prepared."
Holiday Bowl organizers haven't given up on finding an opponent for NC State. But the odds are long, and the game obviously won't be played on its originally scheduled date if it does manage a reboot.
Chip Kelly on Monday: 'Our mindset has been ... we'll play'
UCLA Chip Kelly addressed the COVID outbreak on Monday, telling reporters that the team was continuing to test players for COVID-19, but that its intention was to play.
"Anybody that has any symptoms will be tested after they report symptoms," Kelly said, per The News & Observer's Luke DeCock. "You could have someone go tomorrow on game day. So we’ve got our fingers crossed. Our whole mindset has been if we have 11 we’ll play.”
Doeren's not satisfied
The outbreak apparently continued to spread on Tuesday, leaving the Bruins unable to field a team. As far as Doeren's concerned, UCLA lied to him.
"Felt lied to, to be honest," Doeren continued on Tuesday. "We felt like UCLA probably knew something was going on with their team and didn't tell anyone on our side. We had no clue they were up against that. I don't think it was very well-handled from their university."
Conspiracy theories on social media
The circumstances also prompted some NC State players to make unverified claims on social media that UCLA left the decision to play or withdraw up to a team vote. Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson directly denied a claim made by Wolfpack receiver Thayer Thomas on Twitter.
a Team vote ? 🤣 we are still here in this hotel, if it was up to the players we can play y’all in the parking lot for all we care.
— DTR (@DoriansTweets) December 28, 2021
The Athletic's Bruce Feldman reported Tuesday evening that the claim was untrue.
No truth to the rumor that there was a players vote at UCLA about whether they played in the Holiday Bowl tonight or not. There was never a vote, and the school wouldn't do that on a medical player safety decision, per source.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 29, 2021
Like NC State, UCLA was also due $3.2 million for playing in the game. There's little reason to deduce that the program took its decision to withdraw anything but seriously.
But emotions are high when you've spent your holiday 2,000-plus miles away from home in the middle of a pandemic, only to see the reason for your trip canceled last minute — especially when $3.2 million's at stake.