CONWAY — The Sun Belt Championship scheduled for Saturday at Brooks Stadium between No. 12 Coastal Carolina and No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette has been canceled due to a positive COVID-19 case in the Coastal Carolina program.
According to Coastal Carolina Athletics, because of contact tracing, an entire position group would not be available to play due to possible exposure and therefore the game cannot be played in accordance with health and safety protocols.
“We are very disappointed that the championship game cannot be played, but we are so proud of all of the players and staff members and their hard work during this truly challenging season," said Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill. "We will honor both teams as 2020 Sun Belt Conference Co-Champions."
“We are all obviously devastated with this development and hurt for the student-athletes from both institutions in that they will not have a chance to compete for a conference title,” said Matt Hogue, Coastal Carolina Director of Athletics. “However, the adherence to health and safety protocols for our student-athletes has been and remains the first priority. Those protocols and guidance from our medical team fully governs this decision.”
Both Coastal Carolina (11-0, 8-0 Sun Belt) and Louisiana (9-1, 7-1 Sun Belt) will prepare for their postseason bowl games which have yet to be announced.
Coastal Carolina's New Year's Six bowl chances took a huge hit by not being able to play for a conference title.
The Chants will have to wait and see if No. 23 Tulsa can beat No. 9 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday, which would potentially make the Chants the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion, or in this case, co-champion, which would potentially earn them the right to play in a New Year's Six bowl.
However, it remains to be seen if the Chants will be able to play due to a COVID-19 case within the program and contact tracing, which would become an even bigger issue if the Chants earn a bowl game in December.
Coastal Carolina's 11-0 regular season was the best regular season finish in Sun Belt history and the team's first-ever undefeated regular season finish. It was also the first time the Chants won 11 games since joining the FBS in 2017.
The Chants broke their own Sun Belt record with a No. 9 ranking in the AP Top 25 Poll this week, the highest ranking in an FBS poll in conference history.
The Chants also came in at No. 12 in the College Football Playoff Poll on Tuesday, the highest ranking ever for a Sun Belt team in the poll.
The Coastal Carolina football team took to Twitter to express their disappointment.
"Sick to my stomach," senior linebacker Teddy Gallagher said.
Gallagher also defended his team, saying they aren't just trying to get out of the game and were following Sun Belt protocol.
"Got people tweeting and messaging me..if it’s one thing about this team we don’t duck anything," he said. "Sun Belt protocol had an entire position group and the entire staff on one side of the ball quarantined and out for the game and didn’t let us play.. if they let us we’d go out with 11."
Senior linebacker Silas Kelly, who came back from a torn ACL last season, was crestfallen.
"Only God knows how hard we worked for this opportunity," he said on Twitter. "Crying real tears."