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UCLA will decline invitation to bowl game even if eligible

UCLA coach Chip Kelly looks on from the sideline during a loss to USC on Saturday.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

The end is nigh for UCLA football’s season, the Bruins have decided.

Their final game of the 2020 season will be played Saturday against Stanford at the Rose Bowl, barring any more COVID-19 setbacks, after the Bruins said Thursday that they would decline a potential bowl invitation.

The decision was made after a reaching a consensus among players, who were eager to spend time with their families after having essentially been on lockdown since returning to campus in late June. As part of the sacrifices players have made, they received boxed lunches for Thanksgiving and were not allowed to congregate with one another or their families.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff has been our north star throughout the pandemic, but the student-athlete experience is also always at the forefront of my mind,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement. “These young men have already sacrificed so much for each other; now is the time for them to shift their focus, be with their families and take a well-deserved break.”

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UCLA had a better than expected early signing day with the Bruins finishing at No. 6 in the Pac-12 with the possibility of finishing at No. 3 by the February signing period.

Other concerns, including uncertainty over when and where a bowl game would be played and how safety protocols would be implemented, also outweighed the possibility of using a bowl game to reward the Bruins (3-3) for their success in what could turn out to be their first winning season since 2015.

Players acknowledged that bowl participation would not have been the normal fun experience this season because of restrictions that will eliminate activities usually associated with such a game.

“We are a player-led team, and we listened to our players when it came to making this decision,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said in a statement. “Our guys have given everything they’ve had to this season, and I’ve been so impressed by the maturity and selflessness they’ve shown.”

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The Bruins are one of only two Pac-12 Conference teams to have played every weekend during the pandemic and have experienced only five COVID-19 cases since the initial round of testing when players returned to campus this summer.

“Our job was to create a safe environment, and our players sacrificed all season long to adhere to that environment,” Kelly said. “It’s a testament to them — and to their families — that we’ve played a full schedule this year. We are all looking forward to competing together one more time against Stanford on Saturday.”

UCLA became the second Pac-12 team to opt out of a possible bowl invitation after Stanford (3-2) made a similar announcement earlier this week.

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While the NCAA announced before the season that every team would be eligible for a bowl, UCLA would have needed to beat Stanford to gain postseason eligibility because Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott stipulated that teams from his conference needed at least a .500 record.


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