Why VCU had to bow out of the NCAA Tournament due to COVID-19 protocols
What I'm Hearing: Scott Gleeson explains why VCU could not play their first round game against Oregon due to COVID protocols.
The scenario NCAA Tournament officials have long feared has occurred.
The first-round game between Oregon and Virginia Commonwealth was called off three hours before it was supposed to begin Saturday night and VCU is out of the men’s tournament after “multiple positives” within the last 48 hours. VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin wouldn’t say how many of the Rams have tested positive for COVID-19, but said the team had hoped it would still be allowed to play because it had at least the minimum five players required to start a game.
“The feeling of the committee that was communicated to me was that, given how we had a few happen in a short period of time, there was certainly concern not only for the rest of our team, but for opponents and anyone else who’d be part of the game going forward,” McLaughlin said.
“What we have come to understand with it is the multiple positives within that 48-hour window was what gave the health department folks cause for concern,” McLaughlin added.
Though McLaughlin said he has no idea where the outbreak began, CBS Sports reported that VCU stayed in the same hotel for last weekend’s Atlantic 10 title game as the officiating crew, which included Roger Ayers.
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Ayers tested positive for COVID after arriving in Indianapolis for the NCAA men’s tournament, and John Adams, the former NCAA coordinator of officials, said Saturday that Ayers is at home “holding his own.
“No better but no worse,” Adams said on Twitter. “Please keep praying for him, his family and all who are trying to recover from Covid.”
Asked if Ayers could be the source of the VCU outbreak, McLaughlin said it was irrelevant at this point.
“I’d hate to speculate in any way shape or form of who had it or who didn’t have it. I’d hate to speculate,” McLaughlin said. “We’re just focused on moving forward at this moment.”
This is the second year in a row that COVID has brought an abrupt end to VCU’s postseason. The Rams were minutes from tipoff against Massachusetts in last year’s A-10 tournament when the teams were pulled off the floor and the tournament canceled because of COVID concerns.
On Saturday night, the team was having its pregame meal when McLaughlin told coach Mike Rhoades that VCU was done.
“It was devastating, it was heart breaking. No dry eyes,” Rhoades said, his voice thick. “This is what you dream of as a college player and a coach. To get it taken away like this, it was a heartbreaking moment in their young lives.
“It’s not what you sign up for right? But we’re talking about two basketball games. There have been over 500,000 deaths in this country because of this virus. Devastated as we are over a basketball game, two of them, a lot of people have it worse than us,” Rhoades said, pointing out that former Rams player Justin Tillman lost both of his parents to COVID.
“As hard as this is right now, it’s still a basketball game,” Rhoades said. “The No. 1 priority for me is to make sure our guys get healthy.”
VCU was trying to make arrangements to get the members of its traveling party who haven’t tested positive back to campus Saturday night, McLaughlin said. The players who tested positive will be driven back to the Richmond campus, where they’ll isolate, McLaughlin said.
This has always been the fear for the NCAA, which has gone to great lengths to try and prevent the COVID-related cancellations that caused repeated disruptions during the regular season. Both the men’s and women’s tournaments are being played in semi-bubbles, the men in Indianapolis and the women in San Antonio.
Teams are sequestered, allowed to do little more than practice, play and have team meetings. Players and coaches are tested every day, and wearable technology allows health officials to check players’ proximity to each other for contract tracing.
Even before the tournament began, Virginia delayed its arrival in to Indianapolis because of a COVID outbreak. Kansas was without two players in its first-round victory Saturday, while Georgia Tech was missing ACC player of the year Moses Wright in its loss to Loyola on Friday.