'Multiple positive' COVID-19 tests doom VCU basketball

A10 VCU St Bonaventure Basketball
Posted at 7:01 PM, Mar 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-21 00:13:50-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- VCU became the first team pulled from NCAA Tournament because of COVID-19 protocols Saturday evening.

The NCAA said the 10th-seeded Rams’ first-round game Saturday against Oregon was declared a no-contest.

As a result, seventh-seeded Oregon advanced to the second round without playing.

"Brutal way to exit the NCAA tournament," CBS 6 Sports Director Lane Casadonte said.

The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee said the decision, which came a little more than three hours before the teams were set to play in the West Region, was made in consult with the Marion County Public Health Department.

"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," NCAA officials wrote.

Tournament officials said they could not comment further "because of privacy issues."

The VCU and Oregon game was canceled on Saturday, March 20, 2021, due to COVID-19 protocols, according to the NCAA.

VCU Athletics Director: Team did 'excellent job following COVID-19 protocols'

VCU Vice President and Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin said the team just learned of this week's positive tests Saturday and was informed at 6:20 p.m. that the game would be a no-contest.

While McLaughlin would not confirm number of positive tests, he said VCU had enough kids to play the game tonight.

"Health department concern comes from multiple positive tests in the past 48 hours," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin, who had hoped that the could play by utilizing contact tracing, said they cannot tell where the positives started as the team has been in quarantine since Sunday night and tested negative originally.

However, McLaughlin said the committee felt that with multiple positives in such a short period of time, there was a concern for everyone involved with tonight's game.

This is the second straight year that VCU's season has ended off the court.

"It's hard for our student-athletes," McLaughlin said. "They've done everything we've asked them to do from a COVID protocol perspective."

McLaughlin said the team did an "excellent job following COVID-19 protocols," including since the team arrived in Indianapolis.

“We are heartbroken for our student-athletes, coaches, campus community, and fans," McLaughlin added. "Our team earned the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament."

McLaughlin said the team would not do anything differently.

"We did the right things," he said. "I don't know if it's bad luck, it's just terrible. There isn't anything we would change."

NCAA Tournament Basketball
An usher places a sign near the fans' entrance to remind them to wear face coverings for a first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 20, 2021, at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Head Coach: 'They knew how I am about this stuff... It just stinks'

VCU Head Coach Mike Rhoades said the team was re-tested Saturday and went through contact tracing.

"I felt pretty good because we had enough guys," Rhoades said. "You could see that even though we were missing guys, the others wanted to play."

While Rhoades called the decision devastating and heartbreaking and acknowledged "there were no dry eyes," he said "we've lost two basketball games to this. 500,000 people have lost their lives."

Rhoades also mentioned talking to former player Justin Tillman after he lost both parents.

"That was a much tougher conversation than the one I just had," Rhoades said.

He said the team has been tested "every day for the past three weeks, but within the past 48 hours we’ve received multiple positive tests."

"It has been a dream for all of us to play in the NCAA Tournament," he said. "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.”

The coach noted that these are the first positive COVID-19 tests his team has had all season.

"They followed protocol. They knew how I am about this stuff," Rhoades said. "We just got stuck here in the past 24 hours. It just stinks."

Rhoades said there was "no one person to blame" and that "we're all in this together."

He also said he would not question the decision of the Marion County health department, who ultimately said it was too risky to play.

"No matter what time of the year, when you have multiple positives like we did, there's going to be issues," Rhoades said.

VCU followed Atlantic 10 Conference, University and Virginia Department of Health guidelines to prioritize the safety of student-athletes, coaches, and staff as well as the VCU community, according to school officials.

The positive players will return to Richmond via land transportation and go straight into isolation, according to McLaughlin.

A-10 commissioner on VCU: 'Disappointing and heartbreaking'

Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade called the decision to prohibit VCU from competing disheartening.

"This is tremendously disappointing and heartbreaking for the student-athletes who’ve worked so hard for this opportunity," McGlade said. "During this pandemic, the medical advisory boards have the authority to make this decision for the safety and welfare all of the student-athletes, staff and teams. VCU has had an outstanding year, and this setback does not diminish any of their accomplishments."

Stay with and watch CBS 6 News for complete coverage of this developing story.