The NFLPA has canceled its 2021 Collegiate Bowl. The annual showcase game for NFL prospects was scheduled to be played on Jan. 23, 2021 at Rose Bowl Stadium, the same day as the East-West Shrine Bowl, which was canceled in late October due to “challenges presented by COVID-19.”
The preeminent all-star game, the Reese’s Senior Bowl, is still slated to kick off on Jan. 30.
In a statement issued Nov. 13, more than two months prior to kickoff, the NFLPA explained that after considering all possible pandemic-friendly options and consulting with medical, game operations and internal personnel, the organization decided it would not be feasible to move forward with an in-person game. The NFLPA will hold a virtual event in its place, without the on-field showcase opportunity.
The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the country—with November on track to be the worst month of the pandemic so far in the U.S.
All-Star showcase games typically provide critical exposure for NFL prospects—exposure that often translates in the draft. Each draft slot a prospect rises is worth tens of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars as they start their professional careers. Particularly given the limited schedules being played within the college conferences that are even holding a fall football season, additional face time in front of team and league personnel was expected to hold significant weight.
The NFLPA hopes its virtual version of the event will still prove valuable for participants. Fifty-eight of the 112 players from the 2020 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game were on NFL teams at the start of the current NFL season—an 18-player improvement from 2019—and 15 were actually selected in the 2020 NFL Draft in April. Heading into its 10th year of existence, the league had been looking to continue that upward trajectory this season.
“We would be unable to provide our participants with the world-class, week-long experience that is the hallmark of our game,” the NFLPA said in its statement. “Although we will not hold our typical showcase, we are confident that our alternative approach—an innovative, virtual experience intended to educate, equip and empower participants—will still allow us to strategically engage with this year’s class of prospects as well as our stakeholders, broadcast partners and NFL club personnel while building toward a bigger, better experience for 2022 and beyond.”
The NFL Network and Sports Radio America had served as the Collegiate Bowl’s broadcast partners in recent years. Details on their involvement in the virtual version of the game were not released, but more information on the alternative plans are expected in the coming month. Anheuser-Busch, Fanatics, FedEx, Nike, Pepsi, Gatorade, Tostitos and fitness device company WHOOP rounded out the bowl game’s list of partners. Anheuser-Busch, one of the NFL’s most visible partners, was among a number of sponsors to scale back their Super Bowl plans amid COVID-19 uncertainty. What that means for the rest of their NFL-related activations is still to be seen.