Cajuns AD: Sun Belt suspending all sports was 'the correct decision' but still 'disappointing'
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic now sweeping across the United States and into Louisiana, and on a day the NCAA canceled its championships for the rest of the school year, the UL women’s basketball team will lose out on its chance to play Saturday at the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in New Orleans.
The league initially said Thursday that basketball tournament games would be played in front of a limited audience.
"After further discussion with the Presidents and Chancellors and Directors of Athletics and mounting concerns surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19)," the conference said in a statement issued later Thursday morning, "the Sun Belt Conference has decided to cancel the remaining games of of its 2020 men’s and women’s tournaments set for Saturday and Sunday at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
Several other NCAA conferences — including the SEC, the Big 12 and the Ivy League — also canceled their tournaments, and later Thursday the NCAA Tournament itself was canceled.
The Smoothie King Center is home to the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, and on Wednesday night that league suspended its season.
And late Thursday afternoon, the Sun Belt announced that "regular-season competitions and conference championships in all sports are suspended indefinitely."
That includes all spring sports.
"This decision was made in consultation with the league's Presidents, Chancellors and Directors of Athletics to protect the health and wellness of student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans," the league said in a statement.
The NCAA subsequently went one step farther, canceling all sport championships for the rest of the school and issuing this statement:
"Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships. This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities."
UL athletic director Bryan Maggard, however, left open the possibility that spring sports could resume at a later date, even if no NCAA title event is held.
"I think there's a chance," Maggard said at an evening news conference. "I couldn't tell you what that percentage of chance is.
"Should there be any change in that status (from the Sun Belt) and should it be deemed to be possible to commence competition, and even possibly have a conference tournament of some sort, that could be in play."
Maggard said he knew of no UL coaches or student-athletes who had been tested for the virus.
UL's baseball team and nationally ranked softball team both had been scheduled to play at home this weekend.
The baseball team had been slated to open league play against Coastal Carolina and the softball team was supposed to play Appalachian State.
There will be no game over the weekend, said Maggard, who was not sure when play could possibly resume, if that was even possible.
Fourth-seeded UL had been scheduled to play No. 1 seed Troy at 5 p.m. Saturday at the basketball tournament in New Orleans.
Coach Garry Brodhead’s Ragin’ Cajuns advanced with Wednesday night’s 49-46 quarterfinal-round win over Little Rock at the Cajundome.
South Alabama and Coastal Carolina had been scheduled to play in the other women’s semifinal Saturday.
“In light of the situation nationally in regards to the spread of COVID-19 and the efforts to mitigate the impact of this virus, the Sun Belt Conference made the correct decision to prioritize the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans," Maggard said in a statement issued by the school.
"It is disappointing and unfortunate for our women’s basketball season to end so abruptly," Maggard added, "but our department and our fans could not be more proud of Coach Brodhead and his team."
A news conference with Brodhead scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Thursday was canceled and Brodhead did not immediately respond to a request for comment made a through a team spokesman.
UL earlier issued another statement from Maggard, this one addressing the suspension of spring sports.
It said, in part: "As additional information becomes available, we will communicate it at that time. This will also include information on tickets that have already been purchased in advance for upcoming events. We greatly appreciate the support and understanding of Cajun Nation during this time, and look forward to a positive outcome very soon.”
UL’s men were eliminated from the tournament with a second-round loss at Georgia Southern on Monday night.
The Cajuns opened with a first-round win over Arkansas State last Saturday morning.
Georgia Southern had been scheduled face No. 1 seed Little Rock and Texas State was to have played South Alabama’s in Saturday’s men’s semifinal-round games in New Orleans.
UL football coach Billy Napier, meanwhile, suggested Tuesday night that was business as the usual for the Cajuns as they take in 15 spring practice sessions.
“I think it’s day-to-day for everybody involved, right?” Napier said when asked if he planned to change any practice plans, including UL spring game scheduled for April 9 at Cajun Field.
“We’ll adapt if we need to. I think right now we don’t have to worry about it. … We’ve got great leadership, and we’ll let them manage that situation.
“A lot of it is just basic common sense, right?” Napier added at the time. “Just doing the simple things the right way.”
The Cajuns did practice Thursday, but Napier was not made available for comment afterward.
Cajuns receiver Peter LeBlanc suggested Tuesday night that the coronavirus crisis has not been a hot topic of conversation for UL players before or after practice.
“Honestly,” he said, “nobody’s really talked about it – not in the locker room, at least.
“But, like Coach said, it’s day-to-day. Whatever we need to do to take those precautions, then we will, whether it’s cutting back practice or whatever.”
Thursday's developments were disappointing, Maggard suggested.
"Certainly today is an unprecedented day in sports in America, not just college athletics, but professional sports," he said. "I know a lot of tough decisions were made by a lot of individuals."