Die-hard Gophers fans are wringing their hands about whether to cancel pricey travel arrangements to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl, anticipating that the University of Minnesota football players will make good on their promise to boycott the Dec. 27 game if 10 suspended players are not reinstated.
Some longtime season-ticket holders scrambled to cancel flights — many of which would be ineligible for reimbursements — while others decided to gamble that administrators would reach a deal with the players and convince them to play.
“It’s really thrown a monkey wrench into everything,” said Jim Nesseth, a 1976 graduate of the U’s St. Paul campus and proud Gophers booster. “It’s not a good day for Gophers sports.”
Nesseth, who tailgates every home game with a group of fellow southwestern Minnesota farmers, regularly travels for bowl games to have a reunion with college pals spread across the country. He’s going to wait a few days before breaking his plans and swallowing about $1,200 in airfare and lodging.
Senior leaders on the team announced Thursday that they would not take the field again this season unless their teammates, who were indefinitely suspended as a result of a September sexual assault allegation, were given due process.
A boycott would leave hundreds of fans planning to travel to the Holiday Bowl in limbo. Should they try to sell bowl game tickets to Northern Illinois supporters, the team likely to replace Minnesota? Dozens wrote on social media that they were unwilling to attend the game if their team was not in it.
About 300 Gophers enthusiasts were booked through the U’s travel group, Creative Charters, to make the trek to the Holiday Bowl, said co-founder Steve Erban. All of their transportation had already been paid for.
Many of the travelers were supportive of the team and the coaching staff, he said, and as of Friday morning few had called desperate to cancel.
“I’m not seeing that there’s an epidemic of panic right now at all,” said Erban, who believes Claeys will lead players “through this momentary crisis.”
But some individual ticket holders traveling outside of the group began posting discounted rates on resale sites before the boycott was even announced. The suspension of 10 players, several of them first-stringers, made fans question how competitive Minnesota could really be in the bowl game.
“We were going to get shredded by Washington State, and [it] simply wouldn’t be fun,” said Dan Owen of Madison, Wis., a 2011 alum who’s traveled to nearly every bowl game since graduation. “I love college football, but I’m not going to bother traveling all the way to San Diego to see two other teams play when I could just watch the game from my couch.”
Staff writer Marcus Fuller contributed to this report.