Saturday’s first-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament game between No. 7 Oregon and No. 10 VCU in Indianapolis was declared a no-contest due to what the Rams said were multiple positive COVID-19 tests within their program.
Oregon automatically advances to the second round, where it will play No. 2 Iowa.
The Rams received multiple positive tests within the past 48 hours, coach Mike Rhoades said in a statement.
The NCAA said the decision to postpone the game was made “in consultation 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,” the NCAA said in a statement announcing the no-contest, which came about three hours before the scheduled tipoff.
VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin said the Rams found out around 6:25 p.m. ET that the game was off.
“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,” McLaughlin said during a videoconference with reporters. “This has all happened pretty quickly, in terms of the positives that we’ve had … 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.”
The Rams arrived in Indianapolis on Sunday after playing in the Atlantic 10 tournament game against St. Bonaventure, and hadn’t had any positive tests until later 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,” McLaughlin said. “We don’t know how this happened but it certainly wasn’t bad behavior on our side whatsoever.”
In order to get into the NCAA tournament’s controlled environment in Indianapolis, teams had to show seven consecutive days of negative COVID-19 tests. Once in Indianapolis, teams would undergo daily testing.
NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said before the NCAA tournament that a team could continue playing in the tournament as long as it had five “eligible and healthy” players. The NCAA tournament’s contact tracing and other COVID-19 protocols were expected to prevent a team from needing to withdraw due to one or two positive tests.
Because of that policy, both McLaughlin and Rhoades thought VCU would be able to play tonight despite the positive tests.
“We thought we were still going to have enough to play, but the county, the health department and the NCAA, the medical committee made a decision that we weren’t playing, that it was a no-contest and Oregon was going to move on and we were done,” Rhoades said.
“I felt pretty good because we had enough guys, right? As long as you have five guys you can play,” Rhoades later added. “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.”
VCU didn’t specify if the positive tests came from players or other team personnel.
This is the second year in a row VCU has seen its season end shortly before tipoff. Last season, the Atlantic 10 tournament was canceled minutes before the Rams were set to face UMass in the first round.
“It just stinks,” Rhoades said. “I can’t sugarcoat it.”
This marks the first NCAA tournament game canceled or declared a no-contest due to COVID-19 issues. The NCAA made Tuesday night its deadline for replacement teams to enter the field; no teams had issues at that time.
The Rams were forced to stop practicing or playing on Jan. 2 because of a positive COVID-19 test within their program, forcing a game against Davidson to be postponed. They resumed practice two days later and made it through the rest of the season without further problems.
Led by Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Bones Hyland, VCU finished second in the conference in the regular season and lost to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 title game. But its body of work, which included a season-opening win over Utah State, was enough to earn Rhoades’ team an at-large berth to the tournament.
VCU entered the tournament as a 600-1 long shot at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. Bets on the Oregon-VCU game were being refunded, but futures bets on the Rams, including the odds to win the tournament, remained in action at most sportsbooks.
Oregon head coach Dana Altman congratulated VCU “on an outstanding season” in a statement Saturday.
“We hate to see a team’s season end this way after all the hard work these student-athletes have put in,” Altman said. “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.”
ESPN’s David Purdum and the Associated Press contributed to this report.