The COVID-19 pandemic claimed one team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia Commonwealth University never got a chance to play, as multiple positive COVID-19 tests led the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee to declare Saturday’s game in Indianapolis between the 10th-seeded Rams and No. 7 Oregon a no-contest about three hours before tipoff.
“The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee has declared the VCU-Oregon game scheduled for Saturday night at Indiana Farmers Coliseum a no-contest because of COVID-19 protocols,” the NCAA said in a statement. “This decision was made in consultation with the Marion County Public Health Department. As a result, Oregon will advance to the next round of the tournament. The NCAA and the committee regret that VCU’s student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to play in a tournament in which they earned the right to participate. Because of privacy issues we cannot provide further details.”
"We've been tested every day for the past three weeks, but within the past 48 hours we've received multiple positive tests,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said in the university’s press release. “We are devastated for our players and coaches. It has been a dream for all of us to play in the NCAA Tournament. We appreciate the care of our doctors and administration this year, and all our efforts and attention will be put into our players at this time. Life isn't always fair, but it's about how you deal with it and move forward.”
Oregon is set to play No. 2 Iowa in the round of 32 on Monday. Conversely, ESPN reported that VCU flew home late Saturday night. The individuals who tested positive traveled separately from the rest of the team.
The Rams, who went 19-7 this season to earn an at-large berth, suffered a 74-65 loss to St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 Tournament on March 14 in Richmond, Va. They went straight to Indianapolis and didn’t have positive tests until late in the week.
"I want to make sure it's clear. This isn't something where our team broke protocol and did the wrong thing," VCU vice president and director of athletics Ed McLaughlin said, according to ESPN. "We don't know how this happened, but it certainly wasn't bad behavior on our side whatsoever.”
With frequent testing and contact tracing in place, the NCAA had set the tournament up so that positive coronavirus tests didn’t automatically mean forfeits. The plan was to allow teams to play as long as they had five “eligible and healthy” players. Therefore, VCU was still hoping to play until the committee called the game off and NCAA spokesman David Warlock told The Associated Press, "With potential risks to all involved in the game, we could not guarantee or be comfortable that five or more players would be available without risk.''
"I felt pretty good because we had enough guys, right? As long as you have five guys you can play," Rhoades said. "I was going up and down the hallway and saying, we're like a wounded animal, we're like a wounded animal. You don't want to go against a wounded animal. ... You could tell, even though we were missing some dudes, the guys wanted to play."
"We knew about the positives being confirmed today, and we were hoping through contact tracing we would still be able to play tonight, but obviously that did not happen. This has all happened pretty quickly, in terms of the positives that we've had,” McLaughlin said. “The feeling that the committee, from what was communicated to me, given how we had a few happen within the short period of time right now, there was certainly concern, not only for the rest of our team and for opponents and anyone else who would be part of the game going forward."