Positive COVID-19 tests force VCU out of NCAA Tournament

Positive COVID-19 tests force VCU out of NCAA Tournament
Mike Rhoades talks to his team during the Atlantic 10 semifinal match-up with Davidson on March 6, 2021. (Source: WWBT NBC12)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - VCU head coach Mike Rhoades was notified of the decision about four and a half hours before the Rams were scheduled to tip off against Oregon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Marion County Department of Health and the NCAA were opting to call the game a no-contest due to multiple COVID-19 positive tests in VCU’s program during the last 48 hours. Oregon would move onto the second round, while the Rams would have to figure out how to return to Richmond.

It was gut-wrenching news, news that Rhoades soon after delivered to his players.

“It was devastating, it was heart-breaking. No dry eyes,” Rhoades said on Saturday night, less than two hours after the game was cancelled. “This is what you dream of as a college player and a coach and to get it taken away like this... it’s a heart-breaking moment in their young lives.”

The positive tests were confirmed on Saturday.

“I think that’s probably what sets us apart from something like the situation at Virginia or at Kansas, when they knew much earlier and they’ve been able to test negative since then,” VCU Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin said.

Both Rhoades and McLaughlin noted that the Rams had enough players to compete after contact tracing. The NCAA mandates that a team must have five healthy players in order to compete and McLaughlin stated that VCU would have had “plenty” to start the game. However, after reviewing the situation, the health department opted to advise that VCU not take part in competition.

“Given how we had a few (positive tests) happen within the short period of time right now, there was certainly concern, not only for the rest of our team, but for the opponents and anyone else who would be part of the game,” McLaughlin said of what was communicated to him regarding the decision.

Rhoades said he will not seek any further explanation from the Marion County Department of Health, noting that he won’t question medical professional on their expertise. His focus right now is moving forward together, making sure his players are healthy and guiding them through this time.

“There’s no one person to blame and we don’t do that around here,” Rhoades noted. “We’re all in this together and if it starts with anyone, it starts with me. For the last couple hours, I’ve been kicking my head. What could we have done differently? There’s no one to blame in this.”

If there is, it’s certainly not the VCU players and staff, according to both Rhoades and McLaughlin.

“I want to make sure it’s clear- this isn’t something where our team broke protocol and did the wrong thing,” McLaughlin said. “We don’t know how this happened, but it certainly wasn’t because of bad behavior on our side whatsoever.”

McLaughlin also said he would not speculate as to whether his team’s positive results were related to that of referee Roger Ayers. Ayers officiated the Atlantic 10 Championship Game on Sunday in Dayton and is currently battling the virus.

“I would hate to speculate in any way, shape or form of who had it.”

Most of VCU’s team departed late on Saturday night, while the team members who tested positive left on a charter bus on Sunday morning. McLaughlin said that once those who have tested positive arrive in Richmond, they will isolate.

The Rams were able to make it through the season with no major coronavirus issues. They missed scheduled January 2 game with Davidson due to a false positive, but only missed one day of basketball activities.

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