The scenario that NCAA tournament officials have long feared has materialized.
The first round game between Oregon and Virginia Commonwealth was abandoned three hours before the start of Saturday night, and the VCU was eliminated from the men’s tournament after “several positive results” within the last 48 hours. VCU Sporting Director Ed McLaughlin wouldn’t say how many of the Rams tested positive for COVID-19, but the team was hoping to keep playing as it requires a minimum of five players to start a game.
“The feeling from the committee I was told was that given that some happened in a short amount of time, surely not only the rest of our team but also our opponents and anyone else who did be concerned part of the game in the future, ”said McLaughlin.
“What we understand is the numerous positives within that 48-hour window that were of concern to the health department,” added McLaughlin.
Although McLaughlin said he had no idea where the outbreak began, CBS Sports reported that VCU stayed at the same hotel as the reigning crew, which included Roger Ayers, for the Atlantic 10 title game last weekend.
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Ayers tested positive for COVID upon arriving in Indianapolis for the NCAA men’s tournament, and John Adams, the former NCAA coordinator of officials, said Saturday that Ayers was home to assert himself.
“Not better, but not worse,” said Adams on Twitter. “Please keep praying for him, his family and anyone trying to recover from Covid.”
When asked if Ayers could be the source of the VCU outbreak, McLaughlin said that was irrelevant at the time.
“I would hate to speculate in any way about who had it or who didn’t. I would hate to speculate, ”said McLaughlin. “We’re just concentrating on moving forward right now.”
This is the second year in a row that COVID has abruptly ended the VCU postseason. The Rams were minutes before the start of last year’s A-10 tournament against Massachusetts when the teams were pulled off the ground and the tournament was canceled due to COVID concerns.
On Saturday night, the team had their pre-game meal when McLaughlin coach Mike Rhoades said the VCU was ready.
“It was devastating, it broke my heart. No dry eyes, ”said Rhoades in a thick voice. “This is what you dream of as a college player and coach. It was a heartbreaking moment in her young life to take it away like this.
“It’s not what you’re signing up for, is it? But we’re talking about two basketball games. There have been over 500,000 deaths from this virus in this country. Devastated when we are over a basketball game, two of them, a lot of people have it worse than us, ”said Rhoades, pointing out that former Rams player Justin Tillman lost both of his parents to COVID.
“As hard as this is now, it’s still a basketball game,” said Rhoades. “The number one priority for me is making sure our boys get well.”
The VCU was trying to make arrangements to bring members of their tour group who did not test positive back to campus on Saturday night, McLaughlin said. The players who test positive will be driven back to the Richmond campus for isolation, McLaughlin said.
This has always been the fear of the NCAA, which has gone to great lengths to prevent the COVID-related cancellations that resulted in repeated disruptions during the regular season. Both men’s and women’s tournaments are played in half-bubbles, with the men in Indianapolis and the women in San Antonio.
The teams are confiscated and are only allowed to practice, play and hold team meetings. Players and coaches are tested daily, and wearable technology enables health officials to check player proximity to each other to keep track of contracts.
Even before the tournament started, Virginia delayed its arrival in Indianapolis because of a COVID outbreak. Kansas was without two players in its first-round win on Saturday, while Georgia Tech missed ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright in its loss to Loyola on Friday.