The conference announced that the title game set for Saturday in Winston-Salem in North Carolina has been canceled.
Rudy Johnson, the starting quarterback for the Rams, was "viciously beaten" by members of the Virginia State team, Winston-Salem State Chancellor Donald Reaves said in a statement. He said one Virginia State player admitted his role in the beating.
School spokeswoman Nancy Young identified the suspect as 22-year-old Lamont Daniel Britt. A Forsyth County jail official says Britt, a running back from Portsmouth, Va., was being held there Friday night on a charge of misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury.
"There is no excuse for the behavior of the Virginia State players," Reaves said.
Young said Johnson was assaulted in the bathroom at the Anderson Conference Center on the Winston-Salem campus during the luncheon.
"Today's event was supposed to be a celebration for both teams and for all the players who were being recognized for an outstanding season," Reaves said. "The actions from the Virginia State players certainly changed the outcome for everyone.
Virginia State Athletic Director Peggy Davis didn't return a phone call seeking comment, but the school issued a statement on its website saying it is fully cooperating with the CIAA in its investigation and couldn't comment further.
Both Winston-Salem State Rams and Virginia State Trojans are 9-1. The Rams lost to Valdosta State in the NCAA Division II championship game last year, and both teams were in position to earn postseason berths this season.
The Winston-Salem Journal reported that five Virginia State players were involved and Reaves said university police are trying to identify the others.
One of Johnson's teammates told the newspaper that "Rudy was beaten up bad and he can't play."
A photo taken of Johnson shows him holding ice over his right eye.
CIAA Commissioner Jacqie Carpenter lamented the loss of the championship weekend. The conference consists of 12 historically black colleges and universities in Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
"On the eve of such an important weekend for dozens of our student-athletes, many of whom have waited a lifetime for such a moment, we are left to focus instead on what might have been," Carpenter said.
"But the CIAA has long had policies to encourage responsible behavior, and must consider what is necessary to assure days like today are not repeated, ever," she said.
The conference volleyball championship, which also involved the two schools, was canceled as well.
Johnson, a 6-2, 205-pound junior from San Diego, moved into the starting lineup in the second game. He has completed 150 of 239 passes for 2,076 yards and 22 touchdowns with five interceptions in his nine games. He's also the team's second-leading rusher with 420 yards and six rushing scores.
Britt, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound sophomore, was Virginia State's third-leading rusher with 276 yards and one touchdown on 63 carries. He also had seven catches for 78 yards on the year.
Winston-Salem State was trying to become the first team in two decades to win three straight CIAA championships, the last being Hampton from 1992-94. The Rams have won 24 straight games against CIAA opponents.
Virginia State and Winston-Salem State hadn't played since 2003.
Sports writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report.