March Madness 2021: VCU left heartbroken after COVID-19 knocked out Rams from NCAA tournament

It didn’t take long, after Duke was taken out of the ACC tournament due to COVID-19 issues and ended his season 10 days ago, then Virginia left the same event and Kansas returned to bus to Lawrence rather than staying in Kansas City and contesting the Big 12 quarterfinals, for the public to discuss the wisdom of playing these championships so close to March Madness.

Duke wasn’t going to make the NCAAs without completing this event and achieving substantial success or maybe even winning the automatic qualifying position granted to his champion. But UVa and KU were placed in the 68-team squad on Selection Sunday, and each of them made their first-round matches six days later.

A team which did not: that of the conference which chose to reconfigure its calendar so that its tournament can take place a week earlier.

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The Atlantic 10 announced in mid-January that it plans to move its tournament from Brooklyn to two arenas in Richmond, Virginia. chose to increase the schedule for most of the event, with rounds through to the semi-finals from March 3-6, a period previously conceived as the last week of the regular season. The championship game has been moved to March 14 at the League member’s Dayton campus, a short bus ride from the 2021 NCAA tournament site in Indianapolis. After Saint-Bonaventure defeated VCU in that game, winning the league’s automatic bid, VCU went 19-7 and was selected as a traveling participant and was awarded a No.10 seed. .

However, according to a sports department statement, VCU has had several positive COVID-19 tests in its schedule in recent days. The Rams learned at 6:25 p.m. ET Saturday from NCAA Vice President Dan Gavitt and Men’s Basketball Committee Chairman Mitch Barnhart that their game with the No.7 seed, Oregon, was not was not going to move forward. In consultation with the Marion County (Ind.) Department of Health, said athletic director Ed McLaughlin, concern over several tests occurring in a short period of time led the committee to declare the game without a competition and to pass the Ducks to the second round. .

A year ago, the Rams were 18-13 and tied for eighth in the A-10. Their season ended like so many others have, with the conference tournament called off just when the possibility of stealing an automatic offer arose most forcefully. In the case of VCU, however, it was more dramatic.

“It has happened to us twice now. Last year we were taken off the floor just before we were due to play UMass, and now we have another ripped off us like that,” McLaughlin told reporters. during a call. Saturday late. “It’s difficult for our student-athletes. It’s tough for our coaches who have worked so hard and done everything we asked them to do from a COVID protocol standpoint.

“I want to make sure it’s clear: this isn’t something where our team broke protocol and did the wrong thing. We don’t know how it happened. But it was definitely not because of bad behavior on our side, either.

“It’s brutal. That’s the only way I can describe it. My heart is broken for our student-athletes. My heart is broken for our coaches.”

VCU was hopeful of playing the game because the NCAA said any team with five eligible players could be available to compete. The school was made aware of the multiple positive tests in the previous 24 hours and went through the contact tracing process with the belief that they might allow the Rams to go to court.

Rams coach Mike Rhoades told reporters he tried to make it a motivator, walking down the hall on the team floor at JW Marriott, saying the Rams “were like a wounded animal “and therefore more dangerous.

“The guys wanted to play,” Rhoades said. “Part of me kept saying this was going to happen. It just can’t happen two years in a row.

Heartbreaking. That’s what you dream of as a varsity player and coach. Getting kidnapped like that is just a heartbreaking moment in their young life.

“That’s not what you sign up for, right? Nobody. But last year we are talking about two basketball games. There were over 500,000 deaths in this country from this virus. . As devastated as we are in a basketball game. – two of them, right? – there are a lot of people who have worse than us. “

Rhoades recounted how he spoke almost a year ago with former Rams star Justin Tillman, who now plays professionally in Israel, who has lost both parents to COVID.

“It was a lot harder to speak than the one I just had,” Rhoades said.

He said he would not question the medical authorities who made this decision.

The NCAA went out of their way to guard against the virus as fiercely as possible to end the tournament, hence the steps taken over the past week that have led some contestants to complain: the isolation of every player, coach and a member of the staff having his own room, the food of the hotel delivered to each floor to avoid gathering for meals, the ordeal that seems almost perpetual.

VCU’s experience shows that all the hesitation about how to run the season, whether or not to play conference tournaments – the spread of the virus has been too unpredictable for such decisions to be foolproof. The Rams haven’t had a single problem, no stoppage, during their preseason or regular season practice. Until the worst possible time.

“Looking at him, I shake my head. We’ve been doing the right things all along,” McLaughlin said. “I wouldn’t do anything different from what we did.

“I don’t know if this is bad luck, or what it is. It’s just terrible, more than anything else. But I don’t think there is anything we would change. “

Only the end, if that was possible.

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