The No. 24-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns football team was forced to cancel Saturday’s 1 p.m. non-conference home game against Central Arkansas after a spike in positive tests since its last game.
UL director of athletics Bryan Maggard said 33 student-athletes are in the school's COVID-19 safety protocol. About half of them have tested positive, he said. The other half have been identified as having been exposed to someone who tested positive.
Lafayette Parish as of Tuesday recorded 639 new confirmed cases in the past week, tripling the seven-day caseload recorded on Nov. 10, according to state data. Lafayette's rate of case growth far outpaced the other six parishes with populations of more than 200,000. While those parishes all showed significant increases, none of the increases exceeded 100% over the previous week. Lafayette increased by 207%.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases have about doubled in recent weeks at UL, a campus spokesperson said, reflecting a rapid increase in cases around the region.
The UL dashboard on the novel coronavirus showed more than 80 cases for the week of Nov. 8 and 55 for the week of Nov. 15. That includes confirmed cases for athletes, the general student population and faculty.
“We really came to the conclusion yesterday (Tuesday) evening that it would warrant us to stop practicing and shut things down for the week, which led us to having to cancel on Saturday,” Maggard said.
It’s getting closer to the end of the college football season.
Because of symptoms players showed Monday as well as positive tests from the week before, Maggard said the athletic department elected to administer an impromptu antigen COVID test to “get a gauge on it and we saw some spikes in positive tests.”
The team then did its routine COVID tests on Wednesday, but the results were not available at the time of Maggard’s virtual press conference.
Maggard said the athletic department has seen a rise in positive tests, including out-of-season sports, compared to September and October.
“It’s probably indicative of our society right now,” he said. “Nationally, we’re seeing an uptick in cases. Whether it’s the community of Lafayette, the region, the state, our campus, our athletics program. I just think it’s indicative of what’s happening both locally, regionally and nationally.”
Campus spokesman Eric Maron said UL leaders anticipated a spike in cases late in the fall, which is why they decided to end the semester on the day before Thanksgiving.
“We knew that as the weather got colder, people would be driven outside and more likely to catch the flu or the coronavirus,” he said. Campus leaders said they did not want students to bring cases home or return with cases to campus after the holiday.
Maron said numbers are fluid, as people go off or are added daily to the list of confirmed cases. He said many students are quarantined – restricted to their apartments -- if they are exposed or possibly exposed to someone with COVID-19
He said despite the spike in numbers there are no additional plans to close the campus before Nov. 25, the last days for semester exams.
“Our students are aware of what’s going on and how they have to be responsible. They are wearing the masks. Lot of students taking extra measures,” he said.
“We’re part of the community,” he added, explaining that as case numbers rise in the community, they will likely rise on campus.
Maggard said he’s confident the Cajuns would have met the Sun Belt’s minimum player availability requirements to play a game, despite Wednesday's test results.
However, “the one thing that can supersede that is if your local health officials tell you to stop activity," he said.
So based on the total athletes affected, it was determined football operations must be shut down Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, preventing the team from proper time to prepare for Central Arkansas. Maggard said UL hopes to return to practice Saturday.
Clinching a spot in the conference championship game is one thing.
The Cajuns are currently 7-1 overall and 5-1 in Sun Belt play and clinched a spot in the Sun Belt Conference championship game after beating South Alabama 38-10 this past Saturday. The league's title game is scheduled for Dec. 19 at a site of the No. 1 overall seed, which has not been determined yet.
“We’re certainly disappointing in having to cancel Saturday’s game against Central Arkansas,” Maggard said. “I know it was something our student-athletes, our coaches and certainly our fans were looking forward to.
“But to no surprise, the health and safety of our program is the priority. So unfortunately we had to cancel, but we know we did it for the right reasons.”
Maggard said any potential makeup dates have not been discussed. Theoretically, if UL does get to play ULM on Nov. 28 as scheduled, the Dec. 12 date could be open to potentially make up Saturday’s cancellation with Central Arkansas.
With UL now battling COVID obstacles and ULM already having two games to make up in December due to COVID, many are concerned if the Cajuns’ trip to Monroe on Nov. 28 will be made.
Maggard said if it’s too early to know, but Dec. 12 would be the makeup date if the ULM game isn’t played.
UL redshirt junior wide receiver Calif Gossett was home in Pensacola, Florida, working out at his old high school when it happened.
Maggard said the decision to inform the public Wednesday that the Cajuns didn’t practice Tuesday was routine procedure.
“We wanted to make sure we had all the answers to our questions in place first, before we make any type of public announcement,” he said. “We’d do that in any situation.
“From a safety protocol standpoint, when you look at social distancing requirements, I’m not convinced that people in the stands were necessarily exposed to our student-athletes, given the proximity they are to the team.”
With that said, Maggard said, “My encouragement to anybody is if you have any reason for concern, please go get tested.”
In other COVID-related athletic news, UL men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin revealed Wednesday his team’s regular-season opener against Xavier next Wednesday won’t be played.
UL’s new opener is now slated for Nov. 28 against Loyola of New Orleans.
Likewise, the UL women’s basketball team was scheduled to play UNO next Wednesday. That game, along with a Nov. 30 game against Loyola have been canceled due to positive tests and contact tracing within the Ragin’ Cajuns’ program.
“We take it day by day as we get into the season and it’s no different with football, in any game you have two opponents – the team you’re playing and COVID,” Maggard said. “You try to beat them both every week.”