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The fallout from Tuesday's mayhem hit hard, and it hit fast.

It didn't take long for things to devolve into chaos once it came out that UCLA football (8-4, 6-3) would be backing out of the Holiday Bowl against No. 18 NC State (9-3, 6-2 ACC). The decision was made public just a few hours prior to the scheduled kickoff, and fans were left to speculate, hurl insults and accusations and try to make sense of the complicated situation on a moment's notice.

Naturally, there was a lot being said by the teams, media members, executives and more, and as one would expect, not everything lined up.

Watching NC State coach Dave Doeren try and act like he had no idea this was ever a possibility is part funny and part frustrating. Either he genuinely didn’t know Qwuantrezz Knight, Jay Toia, Tyler Manoa and others weren’t playing – which would be a comical failure in scouting and general awareness on his part – or he more likely overlooked those cases in order to villainize UCLA and play the victim.

"I don't feel like it was very well handled from their university," Doeren said. "Would have been great to have had a head's up that this could happen, so maybe two or three days ago, we could've found a plan B. ... I feel undercut a little bit there."

The thing is that Doeren might not have been completely off the mark, based on the way the Bruins had been operating going into gameday. But to act like there aren’t victims on the UCLA side is only further pushing false narratives, and he clearly let his true colors shine through in that moment of high emotion.

To be frank, UCLA was either woefully ignorant or purposely deceitful in their handling of COVID-19. All of the players who turned out to have the virus either announced it themselves, or their parents did – never the team or the school.

Things were also painted in a way that made people think that all of the COVID positives had been left back home in Westwood, which also turned out not to be true. And to add to that, leaving players who tested positive behind and thinking they couldn’t have impacted teammates they had been around in the days leading up to that test shows a willful misunderstanding of COVID-19, even two years into the pandemic.

Outbreaks can happen, and with the extreme contagiousness of the omicron variant, it’s becoming more and more likely. Thinking that it’s in the rear-view mirror just because those who tested positive weren’t there at that exact moment is clearly a flawed line of logic.

So, knowing that there was a possibility of COVID getting spread across the team, the trip to San Diego still went off without a hitch. They went to Sea World, they rode rollercoasters and they toured the city, often without masks.

While the players are young adults who are capable of thinking for themselves, they weren’t the ones organizing all the trips and special events. The school and the people at the Holiday Bowl were responsible for that, and no one thought to change those plans and reel things in when it seemed like the game could be at risk. By letting business go on as usual, it gave the players a pass to let their guards down, all because of the failed leadership of the adults in charge.

That is simply a byproduct of the format of college football, with vacations and gifts given out by bowls used as justification for keeping student-athletes as amateurs. It’s part tradition and part compensation, and giving up both of those was clearly not seen as worth it by whoever was calling the shots, whether that be coach Chip Kelly, athletic director Martin Jarmond or someone else.

As many have confirmed, the Bruins were in a position to play Monday night and Tuesday morning, and remained so until the last round of test results came back later Tuesday. But COVID outbreaks aren’t binary – it isn’t as if things are 100% fine until they aren’t. There has to be a buildup of cases that grows over time.

Just because those cases weren’t enough to cancel the game at the time doesn’t mean they should have been overlooked in the days leading up to the contest. UCLA let things get to the literal point of no return before coming out and stepping away from the bowl, when there was obviously a buildup they had no interest in disclosing themselves. Jarmond told UCLA fans and donors about the decision to back out of the bowl in the middle of a $75 brunch, which was long after most people on both sides had already traveled out to San Diego, rather than giving fair warning ahead of time to paying fans and students that this was a possibility.

Following the string of cases from throughout the week, those who were keeping a close eye on the situation could have told you there was a chance this could happen. But by keeping their mouths shut and not legitimizing those conversations, UCLA elected not to endorse those preceding concerns and rather sell the idea that everything was fine and there was nothing to worry about.

So no, the players did not vote to back out of the game – when NC State receiver Thayer Thomas brought that up, everyone from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to defensive lineman Martin Andrus Jr. clapped back at him, and rightfully so. As has been the case throughout the whole pandemic, it was the school’s medical staff that made the final call on the Bruins’ ability to compete, in accordance with Pac-12 policies.

However, what allowed Thomas’ conspiracy theory and other lies and misunderstandings to pick up steam was UCLA’s lack of communication and responsibility throughout the week, and throughout the season as a whole.

UCLA Athletics provided the media with weekly COVID-19 test result statistics throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, disclosing everything from the number of PCR and antigen tests to the number of positives and which teams those positives came from. 

The policy was revoked during the summer of 2021, and that shroud of mystery only thickened when Kelly made it clear he was going to be as difficult and vague as possible all season long when it came to player unavailability. Whether it was a positive COVID test, a torn ACL, already confirmed wrist surgery or academic ineligibility, Kelly would meet every question with the same answer – any player who wasn't there was simply "unavailable."

Kelly sparring with the media has often been overlooked by fans as meaningless drivel and bickering, but this is where it can lead. Instead of being open about who is and isn't at practice and who is dealing with an infectious disease that could jeopardize the entire team, he elected to keep everything behind closed doors, and the athletic department took the same stance, either by choice or by proxy.

One of the vagaries UCLA Athletics has been working with this year has been classifying all COVID-19 issues the same way, announcing teams are dealing with protocols rather than confirming positive tests the way they did in the past. As a result, when ESPN reached out to Bowl Season executive director Nick Carparelli about the Holiday Bowl situation, he was left to make his own inference from the statement put out by the team.

"UCLA's statement makes it very clear that their inability to play was due to the protocols in place and not the virus itself," Carparelli sent in a text message. "I feel bad for both teams as well as the great people at the Holiday Bowl who worked so hard all year long for today. This continues to be a very sad and frustrating situation."

As someone who is not familiar with how the team has been running things all year long, Carparelli mistakenly believed that "protocols" and "the virus itself" are mutually exclusive. Carparelli is someone in a position of power who has a lot of influence and pull, as does ESPN, so when someone in that spot slips up and places the blame on UCLA's health and safety policies, that is going to stick.

It isn't just NC State fans who are angry at UCLA – many Bruin fans have turned their anger towards their own program, and the entire national conversation is centered around UCLA being cowards, weak or sneaky. While those exact accusations are incorrect, the fact is that UCLA is getting demolished in the battle of public perception.

Blame the athletic department, blame the NCAA, blame the collegiate amateur model or blame the staff for cultivating an environment in which the discourse seemed destined to break this way.

Just don't blame the athletes, the young men and their families who undoubtedly gave their all and sacrificed plenty over the past few months in order to get to this spot to begin with. If it were up to them, as they've said time and time again, they'd have played.

The global pandemic is still burning strong, though, and not everyone is treating it as such. Cases are cases, and with the way certain variants are spreading, the cancellation itself may have been unavoidable.

But with the way things were managed on multiple different levels, things got ugly fast, and Tuesday's debacle will be seen as a stain on several different people's records until more information comes out to prove otherwise.

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