Photo courtesy of Louisiana athletics
It was mid-December.
The feeling of championship football was in the air.
Both teams were having outstanding seasons.
The No. 17 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns was had traveled to South Carolina to face the No. 11 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers for the Sun Belt Championship. Out of nowhere, something strange thing happened.
“We are very disappointed that the championship game cannot be played,” Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill announced.
Coastal Carolina had issues within the program with positive COVID 19 testing.
“We will honor both teams as 2020 Sun Belt Conference Co-Champions,” Gill added in a statement.
“I’m going to let everybody draw their own conclusions, and I support the drawing of conclusions,” said Bryan Maggard, athletic director at Louisiana. “That we unfortunately had to cancel the most important game in the Sun Belt Conference history, and in essence we had to cancel a New Year’s Six semifinal game.”
The accusations from the Louisiana fans on social media flew and the war of words between the two schools’ fan bases ensued. Things got heated and ugly quickly. There is no evidence to suggest that Coastal Carolina was negligent or outright lying about the COVID-19 situation.
The conference stood by the decision. There were however, alternatives.
The conference could have postponed the game. It could they have substituted the second-place team in the East division, Appalachian State, for the Chanticleers. There are several things that could have been done, but this was an unprecedented situation.
What was certain is that neither school liked the co-championship title. Maggard was correct on two counts: It was the biggest game in conference history and both schools missed out on any opportunity for a better bowl game.
The conference made things worse made on March 1. The 2021 schedules were released and the game we did not get to see on Dec. 19 was missing. In the league’s rotation, this is the year that Louisiana and Coastal Carolina won’t play each other.
How could the conference let that happen? This game should have happened and been scheduled early in the season. It would have been the perfect ESPN Thursday night game. The regular season meeting between the teams last season was a midweek game with Coastal Carolina winning on a last-second field goal in a 30-27 thriller.
This was a chance to again showcase two of the best teams in conference — maybe two of the best in the whole Group of 5 — and this time, with more hype coming in. The Cajuns against the Chanticleers game was the game that needed to happen no matter what the rotation was. This game would have helped grow the conference exposure.
“We are trying to grow our brand in all our markets, not just one or two,” as an explanation by Commissioner Gill was nothing short of laughable.
How is this game not happening helping grow the entire conference?
Apparently, only Gill knows.