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The Memphis football team was in team meetings Thursday in Honolulu and was planning to head to Clarence T.C. Ching Stadium for a walkthrough.
At 4:30 p.m., everything changed when the Tigers learned Hawaii had to pull out of the Hawaii Bowl schedule for Friday. Thirty minutes later, Hawaii posted a statement that it couldn't play due to low numbers from positive COVID-19 tests, transfers and injuries.
Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch broke the news to coach Ryan Silverfield, who then told the team. It wasn't the ending the Tigers (6-6) had hoped in a season where they won their regular season finale just to become bowl eligible.
"I'm sad for them. Our players are ready, they prepared, they worked hard. They did everything right. The way they behaved, their actions this week at the bowl game reflect that," Silverfield said. "But we are bowl champions and that's one thing I told them. It's most important that we go home with this trophy and rightfully so.
"Those players, those seniors earned the right to be called champions because they did everything the right way."
Silverfield added that the university will be working with the Hawaii Bowl to discuss the $1.2 million payout from the game. It's not known if Hawaii will have to forfeit its share of the payout.
Some Memphis fans and even offensive coordinator Kevin Johns used social media in search of another game, including the Gator Bowl, which added Rutgers after Texas A&M was unable to field a team. But Silverfield said the season is likely over.
Several players and families signed waivers to spend more time in Hawaii and others already made Christmas plans at their homes. Also, the Tigers (6-6) would need another team to pull out of their bowl game, which would mean Memphis has to be on standby and then prepare for an opponent on short notice.
After factoring in a long flight from Hawaii to Memphis, Silverfield wanted to give the players a break before their next team meeting on Jan. 17.
"I don't like to use the word impossible but I think it's a very hard task to be able to try and get done. It would be different if we had been in Montgomery or if we had known a few days prior," Silverfield said. "But given the day, the timing ... all those things come into mind. Our guys want to play the game but reality is, it's just more about the travel and logistics. I think it's very, very hard to do."
For Silverfield, his attention shifts to a busy offseason. He must hire a new defensive coordinator and he said he'll also re-evaluate his current staff. There will be players who will head into the transfer portal while the Tigers continue recruiting.
The Tigers also have to replace mainstays like defensive back Jacobi Francis, linebacker JJ Russell, tight end Sean Dykes, four-year offensive line starter Dylan Parham and receiver Calvin Austin III. Austin and Parham will play in the Senior Bowl in February
Quarterback Seth Henigan returns but who stays or leaves will affect the outlook for 2022 as Memphis has key positions to fill. The Tigers played 28 freshmen this season so how much will that experience benefit come this spring?
Those are issues Silverfield must address in the coming months. But for now, he was more focused on soothing moods and getting home. After his first full season was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn't easy accepting his second season ended abruptly because of it.
"At the end of the day, you want to play the game," Silverfield said. "We'll be playing in many more bowl games and we want to compete for championships next year. I'm frustrated but I'll get over it. My biggest concerns are with our players."
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This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis football unlikely to play in another bowl: Hawaii cancellation