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Pioneer Bowl cancelled, ending Albany State’s football season

Albany State finishes year at 6-4

Albany State football coach Mike White looks toward the field during Saturday’s win against Miles in the SIAC championship game. White and the Rams learned Wednesday that the Pioneer Bowl was cancelled, ending Albany State’s season prematurely. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

Albany State football coach Mike White looks toward the field during Saturday’s win against Miles in the SIAC championship game. White and the Rams learned Wednesday that the Pioneer Bowl was cancelled, ending Albany State’s season prematurely. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

It was an announcement Albany State football coach Mike White and his players were expecting — but it still stung when it became official Wednesday that the Pioneer Bowl would be cancelled.

The annual game is played between the top teams in the SIAC and CIAA not making Division II postseason appearances, and Albany State’s victory in Saturday’s SIAC championship game against Miles qualified the Rams for their first trip to the Pioneer Bowl since 2003. The game would have been played on Dec. 7 on the campus of the CIAA representative.

Rumors had been swirling for weeks regarding the possible cancellation of the popular HBCU game, and it was finally announced that the CIAA was backing out due to budgetary restraints.

“I was contacted this past weekend by (the SIAC), who informed me of the CIAA’s decision not to participate in the Pioneer Bowl this year,” Albany State athletic director Richard Williams said. “While our team, student body, alumni and fans were looking forward to playing another football game, it will not diminish the outstanding year enjoyed by our student-athletes, coach Mike White and the entire Albany State University football staff.”

White, who wrapped up his 14th season and 12th straight with a winning record, wasn’t surprised by the announcement.

“We were disappointed, but it’s not a major announcement for us because we got a hint of it the week before,” he said. “We were trying to let (the season) ride on the conference championship game, thinking it would be our last game.”

The CIAA also had to cancel its conference championship game last weekend after five players from Virginia State were accused of beating up Winston-Salem State quarterback Rudy Johnson in a bathroom during a luncheon the day before the teams played. Virginia State was banned from postseason play after the incident, while WSSU qualified for the Division II playoffs.

The Herald attempted to contact the CIAA multiple times Wednesday regarding the cancellation of the Pioneer Bowl but messages were not returned.

The Rams are now shifting into offseason mode after winning their final five games of the season to finish with a 6-4 record.

“It’s very odd,” White said. “We were talking to the guys about it (Tuesday), and I think it was 1988 the last time we won (our last game of the regular season) and there was no postseason play for us. This is supposed to be the start of your second season, and so we just have to use it as momentum going into the offseason and getting ready for next year.”

The Rams had made the Division II playoffs eight straight years before missing out on an invite the last two seasons. Albany State’s only appearance in the Pioneer Bowl was in 2003 when the Rams beat Fayetteville State 52-30 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

“That was great,” White said of the team’s Pioneer Bowl appearance 11 years ago. “I don’t know much about the Pioneer Bowl since we went, but I don’t know if anything can match that one. We had a great game in the dome, and we won. It was a great way to end the season.’

The Pioneer Bowl, which dates back to 1971 and has been played annually since 1997, was also cancelled in 2002 and 2008. Representatives from the SIAC are confident the game will return in 2014.