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The NCAA men's tournament lost its first game to the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday night.
The NCAA ruled that No. 7 Oregon’s first-round matchup with No. 10 VCU will be considered a no contest due to “COVID-19 protocols” within the Rams' program. The announcement came just hours before the game was set to tip at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The decision means that Oregon will advance to the second round of the tournament.
“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.”
The NCAA did not elaborate on VCU's coronavirus issues. NCAA rules for the tournament require that teams have at least five eligible players able to participate in order for a game to move forward.
"Devastated," VCU coach Mike Rhoades told The Athletic right after the decision was made. "I have no words."
VCU received 'multiple positive tests' in past 48 hours
Rhoades said they have been tested every day for the coronavirus over the past three weeks as a team, but that they "received multiple positive tests" within the last 48 hours. CBS Sports' Matt Norlander reported that the program's first positive test appeared on Wednesday, and was followed by more on Friday and Saturday.
VCU has been in Indianapolis since Sunday night.
"We are devastated for our players and coaches," Rhoades said in a statement. "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."
VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin said he spoke with the NCAA just before 6:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, which is when they determined that the game wouldn’t be played. He said the team did not violate any coronavirus protocols while at the tournament, and that they did have enough players able to compete in the game. Yet with multiple positive tests coming back in such a short time period, McLaughlin said officials were concerned.
"Given how we had a few [positives] happen within a short period of time … there was concern not only for the rest of our team but for opponents," McLaughlin said.
VCU finished the season with a 19-7 overall record, and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament after falling in the Atlantic 10 tournament championship game to St. Bonaventure.
"This is tremendously disappointing and heartbreaking for the student-athletes who've worked so hard for this opportunity," Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade said in a statement. "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 accomplishment.
'Lots of tears'
Rhoades gathered his team in the 16th floor hallway of the JW Marriott, where they were staying this week, to break the news to them. He told the coaches first at the end of the hallway, and then moved to the middle of the hall to tell his players.
[Rhoades] looked in their faces and told them their season and NCAA dreams were over. One player kept repeating, “I can’t believe this is happening to us,’’ but otherwise there were no words. “Just tears,’’ Rhoades says. “Lots of tears.’’
Rhoades told guard Bones Hyland first and told him separately before the rest of the team, though struggled with finding the right words.
“He kept saying, ‘But coach, this is what I’ve been dreaming of my whole life,’’ Rhoades told The Athletic. “'When I played on the playground, I used to pretend I was playing in the NCAA Tournament.'”
The last six hours, he said, "have just been heartbreaking."
"We had a great week ... The last three days, we had really good practices," Rhoades said. "I mean, really good practices."
Oregon to take on No. 2 Iowa
Oregon will now take on No. 2 Iowa in the second round on Monday. The Hawkeyes cruised to a 12-point win against No. 15 Grand Canyon in their first round game on Saturday.
“During these challenging times, health and safety is the highest priority,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said in a statement. “We would like to wish the VCU student-athletes and staff all the best, and congratulate them on an outstanding season. We hate to see a team’s season end this way after all the hard work these student-athletes have put in. This isn’t the way we wanted to advance, but we are excited to be moving on and we will start our preparation for Monday’s game.”
VCU is the first team to be forced out of the tournament due to the coronavirus, though several other teams have had issues leading up to it.
Both Virginia and Duke were forced out of the ACC conference tournament early due to coronavirus issues, and the Cavaliers didn't arrive in Indianapolis for their first-round game until Friday after having to quarantine. Kansas' David McCormack returned from his bout with the coronavirus and dropped 22 points off the bench to lead the Jayhawks — who were also forced out of the Big 12 tournament early with a coronavirus issue — in a win over Eastern Washington on Saturday in their first-round game.
NCAA 'very confident' it can move forward with rest of tournament
Despite VCU's departure, NCAA tournament committee chair and Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said that they are 'very confident' the tournament can move forward as scheduled.
"There’s gonna be positives from time to time," he said in a statement to Turner Sports. "Unfortunately there were multiple positives very recently, and it caused us to get to this spot.
“I think we’ve created an environment if everybody continues to mask up, to socially distance, takes really great precautions with their team meals, continues to travel the right ways, follows the protocols on their benches during timeouts, we can continue forward. … We feel very confident we can move forward if everyone continues to take care of the protocols.”
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