The Sun Belt Conference football championship game between No. 19 Louisiana and No. 12 Coastal Carolina has been canceled because of a positive COVID-19 test within the Coastal Carolina program, the conference announced Thursday evening.
Because of contact tracing, an entire position group would not be available to play for the Chanticleers because of possible exposure, forcing Saturday's game to be canceled. The conference will recognize Louisiana and Coastal Carolina as co-champions.
The Sun Belt previously decided to submit its highest-ranked team in the College Football Playoff as champion if the conference title game could not be played. So Coastal Carolina will be considered the Sun Belt representative to the CFP, giving the Chanticleers a shot at a New Year's Six bowl as the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion if No. 23 Tulsa beats No. 9 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference title game on Saturday.
"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,'' Coastal Carolina athletic director Matt Hogue said in a statement. "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.''
Coastal Carolina has been one of the stories of the season. They will finish the regular season 11-0, including a win over then-unbeaten BYU, the first Sun Belt team in history to do so.
Louisiana is 9-1, with their only loss coming against the Chanticleers on Oct. 14. Louisiana has won the West Division of the Sun Belt the last three seasons, losing each of the first two conference title games to Appalachian State.
"We are severely disappointed for our student-athletes and staff to not have the opportunity to play in what would have been a truly exciting championship game for the Sun Belt Conference," Louisiana athletic director Bryan Maggard said in a statement. "For our football program, fans and alumni, we look forward to learning of our bowl destination this weekend."
ESPN's Heather Dinich and The Associated Press contributed to this report.