2020-2021 Bowl Season – What to Expect

The Impact of COVID-19 on College Bowl Games

Just like the year 2020 itself, this bowl season will be like no other. By December 15, a dozen games had already been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic along with several schools declining the opportunity to play in a bowl game, even though qualified given the challenging year.

Do not fear, however, college football fans! There are still over 30 games scheduled for this bowl season to entertain you during the holidays.  

(Click here for a complete listing of the 2020 CFB Bowl Game Schedule)

College football bowl season

The bowl season kicked off on December 21, 2020 with the Myrtle Beach Bowl in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (North Texas versus Appalachian State) and will end with the College Football Playoff National Championship on January 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Bowl season was originally supposed to kick off with the Frisco Bowl on December 19, but the game was cancelled due to COVID-19 issues at SMU. If the schedule had occurred as intended, the Frisco Bowl would have coincided with many of the league title games this year, kicking off bowl season before selections for the College Football Playoff were announced. The semifinal originally scheduled for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California has been moved to AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas and the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana.  These two games will serve as the College Football Playoff semifinals this year, and both occur on January 1. 

Traditionally, teams must have at least six wins to be eligible to participate in bowl games. This year, that requirement has been waived to provide maximum flexibility for teams and student-athletes due to the pandemic and the reduced number of games. Thus, all 127 teams participating in the Bowl Subdivision are eligible for the postseason bowl games. 

Has the schedule changed?

In the months leading up to the start of bowl season, there have been quite a few schedule changes and cancellations. So far, 12 bowl games have been cancelled: 

  • Bahamas Bowl
  • Celebration Bowl
  • Fenway Bowl
  • Hawaii Bowl
  • Holiday Bowl
  • Quick Lane Bowl
  • Redbox Bowl
  • Frisco Bowl
  • Pinstripe Bowl
  • Los Angeles Bowl
  • Sun Bowl
  • Las Vegas Bowl

The Montgomery Bowl will serve as a substitute for the Fenway Bowl this year. The Fenway Bowl was planned to debut this season at Fenway Park but has been postponed to 2021 due to concerns about the pandemic. Due to COVID-19 restrictions in the state of New Mexico, the New Mexico Bowl will actually take place in Texas this year at the Toyota Stadium (which will also host the Frisco Bowl, as usual). 

Additionally, some teams – Boston College, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Virginia, Virginia Tech and LSU (NCAA self-administered penalty) – have opted out from the bowl season in order to spend the holidays with their families and avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Up to date information, including schedule changes, cancellations, and updates, can be found here.

Will fans be allowed to attend?

As colder weather sets in and COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, many organizations have made the difficult decision to limit the games to team members, officials, and support staffers. The Rose Bowl will not allow fans to attend due to state, county, and city COVID-19 restrictions. Its request to allow a limited number of seats for guests of players and coaches was denied. Fans will also not be allowed at the Fiesta Bowl, but families of the teams will be in attendance. The executive director of the Fiesta Bowl Organization expressed his disappointment about the fans but acknowledges that “we all need to do our part to ensure the health and safety of our community to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Yet, fans will be allowed to attend some bowl games. The Sugar Bowl in New Orleans – a semifinal game for the College Football Playoff – has limited attendance to 3,000 fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Cotton Bowl is another game that has a limited number of tickets available for purchase. 

Will there be pregame parades?

In normal years, bowl games have been preceded by pregame parades, featuring floats and marching bands. Unfortunately, this year, the pregame parades will be virtual. In July, the 2021 Rose Parade was cancelled for the first time in 75 years but will be replaced with a two-hour TV special including musical and marching band performances, segments about the Rose Parade, celebrity guest appearances, and much more. Similarly, the Military Bowl Parade in Maryland will also be virtual, featuring video submissions from the public such as performances and supportive messages for the military. 

Despite these changes and challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, CollegeWeekends is excited about the 2020 bowl season, and like all college football fans, we feel fortunate that many of these games will continue and be available to watch on TV over the holiday season.  We are equally excited about the prospects for a full schedule of games in 2021!

By Anabel Mast

Anabel will be a 2021 graduate of the University of North Carolina.