Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron and some of his teammates were already getting back on the field, ready to tune up for a bowl game, when they got the news Sunday.
There would be no bowl game.
The 9-3 Bulldogs are staying home for Christmas and New Year's, despite one of the best seasons in school history. Depending on who you believe, they were either snubbed or they turned down their only bowl offer. Whatever the true reason, they won't be playing again as a team. And everyone from players to coaches to alums is beyond upset.
"Just talked to Colby a few minutes ago," offensive coordinator Tony Franklin told Yahoo! Sports. "They're devastated. They don't understand it. Every emotion you can have from sad to angry. How? Why? They don't get it. I don't know what to tell them."
Franklin has spent the last several days recruiting all over California. But he spent a large part of Sunday afternoon pacing outside a hotel, trying to figure out how this could happen to a team that was ranked in the top 25 this season for the first time in program history.
Franklin expected the Bulldogs to go to either the Liberty Bowl or the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and he called assistant head coach Rob Likens to ask which one.
Likens' reply: "We're not going to any of 'em."
"He said NIU jumping up into the BCS knocked Oklahoma out and everything started tumbling and we were left out," Franklin said. "I didn't understand it."
It was only a few weeks ago that Louisiana Tech was 9-1 and considered a dark horse for the Orange Bowl that will be hosting MAC champion Northern Illinois on Jan. 1. Now, after two close losses to WAC champion Utah State and upstart San Jose State, Tech apparently isn't going anywhere.
Several media outlets reported the Independence Bowl invited Louisiana Tech to Shreveport, but athletic director Bruce Van De Velde turned it down. A rumored reason was because of an aversion to a possible matchup with Louisiana-Monroe. The two schools have a complex relationship and it's easy to infer Tech did not want to entertain the idea of a showdown for bragging rights. But Louisiana Tech released a statement denying the school had rejected an "official invitation."
"Contrary to media reports, at no time did I, our head coach or a member of our administration turn down an official invitation to any bowl game," Van De Velde said in the statement. "In consultation with our coach and our university president, we asked Independence Bowl officials for more time to make a decision until we could properly consider all postseason options that were available to Louisiana Tech. Unfortunately, we were not afforded that time and the decision was made to rescind the offer."
In a phone interview with Yahoo! Sports later Sunday night, Van De Velde said Louisiana Tech was "terribly disappointed" not to be going to a bowl game.
"Hard to predict the BCS," Van De Velde said. "We're a non-AQ school in an at-large conference that's falling apart."
He also denied trying to duck Louisiana-Monroe. "This had nothing to do with who was in the bowl game," Van De Velde said. "We simply asked for more time. They were not going to wait."
Franklin said he had not heard anything about the Independence Bowl and hadn't spoken to head coach Sonny Dykes, who tweeted Sunday night: "I'm heartbroken for our 31 seniors that have given so much for LaTech. They deserve to finish their careers in a bowl game."
That sentiment is shared by famous Tech alum Karl Malone, who ripped his school on Twitter Sunday. "I am Bulldog to the core, I am heartbroken and embarrassed that our university would do this to Tech Nation," wrote the NBA Hall of Famer. "To our football and staff this … is exactly what is wrong with our university. Now it's time to get former athletes to run our program. I'm [6-foot-9] and not hard to find."
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Now Franklin and other staffers will continue recruiting for Tech, knowing families will be asking why their son should attend a school that won nine games and didn't land a postseason game.
"I've already thought about it," Franklin said. "The best answer is we'll be in Conference USA and it won't happen anymore. The WAC was a dying conference. Had no power, no stroke, no anything. Here in the end it's shown they have nothing. They're dead. Next year, we win nine games and you don't have this problem."
Yet they have the problem now. Franklin said he wishes he could talk to the players face-to-face about what happened. He said he would tell them "life's not fair," but they control their response to adverse circumstances. He himself intends to redouble his efforts to bring in another group of players who can maintain the top offense in the nation.
"I'm hurt for our players," Franklin said. "I'm a big boy and nothing in this business surprises me. I know every single day there's stuff going on I don't want to know about. This is one of things I don't want to know about."
Chalk it up to a disturbing year in college football where rich conferences got richer and smaller schools got shafted in numerous ways. It's safe to say any Big Ten or SEC school with nine wins would be catered to during this holiday season.
Asked how he felt a situation like this could befall a 9-3 team, Franklin said: "When adults are involved, they tend to screw things up."
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