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Football: UL, Sun Belt Conference football teams can play complete schedule + John Marcase story

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 5, 2020

The Sun Belt Conference announced Tuesday that its teams will play an eight-game league schedule and will be permitted to play a full 12-game schedule, including non-conference games, beginning as early as Aug. 29.

The Cajuns’ goal is to play a full 12-game schedule, athletic director Bryan Maggard suggested Tuesday, but Maggard said the most important thing is to play get at least eight conference games in, and that it all is dependent on the health and safety of student-athletes remaining constant throughout the season.

The NCAA’s 10 FBS conferences are approaching the 2020 season in varying manners due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has killed more than 155,000 and infected about 4.7 million in the United States alone.

The SEC, for instance, announced late last week that its teams will not start until Sept. 26 and will play only a 10-day conference schedule.

That means UL, a member of the Sun Belt, is expected lose its scheduled Nov. 21 non-conference game at Missouri of the SEC.

Related:SEC schedule decision could prove costly for the Cajuns

The ACC earlier announced its teams will play a 10-game conference schedule plus one non-conference game.  

The Sun Belt said in Tuesday’s announcement that its decision was made “after extensive discussions and careful deliberation” among its presidents, chancellors and athletics directors of its member schools; the SBC COVID-19 advisory panel; medical advisers; and other unspecified “governance groups.”

“Sun Belt member institutions have focused since June on a safe return to athletic activities,” the conference said in a statement. “We believe this timetable will allow for the healthy integration of the entire campus community for each Sun Belt member.”

The Cajuns, whose spring practice was cut short by the coronavirus, resumed voluntary workouts in June and are scheduled to open preseason camp Friday.

The SBC said its 10 football-playing schools will have “an option for each member to add as many as four non-conference opponents, beginning with Week Zero.”

Which non-conference opponents UL ultimately will face, however, remains to be seen.

“All that’s going to depend on where Conference USA, the American Athletic Conference and the Mountain West land in terms of their scheduling model,” Maggard said, “and we should, hopefully, know that information by the end of this week.

“Once we know that, that will initially help what our options are to back-fill the Missouri game. But it could also create more openings. We realize that.  … As we talk right now we are just looking to fill one spot, but that could change tomorrow.”

A few games nationwide are scheduled for Aug. 29, in what has become known as Week Zero. Sun Belt member Texas State, for instance, announced Monday it had moved up its opener against SMU to that date.

More:COVID-19 conference with SEC players not expected to go public goes public

UL currently is scheduled to open its season Sept. 5 at home against FCS Southland Conference member McNeese, with additional non-conference games set for Sept. 12 home against Wyoming of the Mountain West and Oct. 24 at FBS independent New Mexico State.

The Ragin’ Cajuns are scheduled to play their first Sun Belt game Sept. 19 at Georgia State in Atlanta.

The Cajuns have not yet said which non-conference opponent it will schedule to make up for the anticipated loss of the Missouri game, and Maggard said UL has not yet officially been notified the game against Mizzou has been canceled.

Maggard said playing Louisiana Tech of Conference USA or other programs could be an option for the Cajuns, but that UL must wait to see what C-USA will do going forward.

UL did not offer a statement on the league’s announcement but it did plan to make athletic director Bryan Maggard available for comment sometime Tuesday.

The Sun Belt also announced it will host its third annual title game Dec. 5, and that “if necessary the date of the championship game may be adjusted.”

More:National college football magazines high on UL, Mitchell

Appalachian State and UL met in the first two titles games, with App State winning both.

The league also said in its statement that it will “continue to monitor health trends across our communities” and that school representatives, its advisory panel and its medical advisers “will continue to review data to ensure a safe return to activities and competition.”

“Our data review will cross seven states and 12 counties and include, among other things, infection rates, hospitalization rates, local health directives, advancements in COVID-19 testing and campus, department and team health trends,” the league also said. “We will continue to provide updates on the league’s activities as the impact of the pandemic continues to evolve.”

Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill declined, through a conference spokeswoman, to further discuss the matter.

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