Army to play West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl after initial exclusion from bowl season

Pete Thamel
·3-min read

The Army football team has landed in the college football postseason after cries of inequity when it was snubbed from the initial round of bowl selections on Sunday.

Army (9-2) will play West Virginia (5-4) in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Dec. 31, according to Army officials. The Black Knights will be replacing the University of Tennessee after a flurry of COVID-19 positive tests ended the Vols’ season.

Army coach Jeff Monken was appreciative of all the support for Army playing in a bowl game.

“It was unreal,” Monken said. “Everyone, from every corner of the sport from every media outlet and other teams. Anyone that loves or follows college football was supportive of this team and said, ‘They need to play.’ I was so grateful of everyone and how strong they felt about our academy and our team and the fact that we represent them.”

It’s fitting that Army will replace Tennessee (3-7), as the sputtering Vols program became one of the outlets of outrage at why Army was left out of the postseason. Thanks to SEC bowl arrangements and the conference’s billion-dollar partnership with ESPN, a Tennessee team that lost seven of its last eight games got chosen over Army.

Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler celebrates after defeating Navy in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in West Point, N.Y.  (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler celebrates after defeating Navy on Dec. 12 in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Overall, there were originally slated to be nine teams with losing records appearing in bowl games this year. That included six from the SEC. There are only 28 bowl games scheduled this year, as opposed to 43 in a regular year. That squeeze limited the opportunities for Army, which included not having spots available in either the Military Bowl, which was canceled, or the Armed Forces Bowl, which will be played between No. 24 Tulsa and Mississippi State (3-7).

As the bowl announcements were revealed Sunday, the absence of Army angered officials there. Army athletic director Mike Buddie said in a statement on Sunday afternoon: “These young men haven’t quit all year and we surely won’t quit now. 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.”

Army players were committed to staying on base and practicing until as late as Thursday to see if a bowl slot opened up.

Monken said early Monday evening that he’d yet to tell the team and planned to do so at a team function. “They’re going to go bananas,” he said. “They’re going to jump up and down and cheer and hug.”

That would prove a sharp contrast from the prior 24 hours.

“I had guys in tears,” he said. “It was rough. It’s really been a tough day for our guys not knowing. We had guys who have not been home since May 31.”

The game will mark the fourth bowl game in five seasons under coach Jeff Monken. A win over the Mountaineers would give Army its third 10-win season in the past four years.

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