NC State Ruled Out Of College World Series Due To Covid-19 Protocols

OMAHA—In a shocking turn of events, North Carolina State on early Saturday morning was removed from the College World Series due to Covid-19 protocols.

NC State was scheduled to play Vanderbilt on Saturday in a winner-take-all game for a berth in the CWS finals. But the Wolfpack were missing an undisclosed number of players in Friday’s game against the Commodores due to Covid-19 protocols. They played the game with just 13 players—nine position players and four pitchers—and on early Saturday morning the NCAA’s Division I Baseball Committee ruled Saturday’s game a no-contest.

“This decision was made based on the recommendation of the championship medical team and the Douglas County Health Department,” the committee said in a statement.

“The NCAA and the committee regret that NC State’s student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to continue in the championship in which they earned the right to participate. Because of privacy issues, we cannot provide further details.”

The decision automatically advances Vanderbilt to the CWS finals, which begin Monday. Had NC State won its game with the Commodores, the winner of the bracket final between Mississippi State and Texas, which will be determined Saturday, would have been the national champion. 

“What transpired over the last 36 hours, and especially since midnight last night, has been hard to comprehend and even much more difficult to accept,” NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan said in a statement. “Every step of the way we fought exhaustively for our players, coaches and staff and program, and for the opportunity to play for the national championship this team has worked so hard to reach. But at the end of the day, several of our players tested positive for COVID and we were not allowed to continue playing. While we can’t discuss publicly everything that transpired, please know every effort was made to fight for the best interests of our program.”

The NCAA’s Covid-19 protocols are designed to be flexible and changeable on a sport-by-sport basis. Unlike MLB, the NCAA does not have a minimum vaccination threshold for a team to become exempt from protocols. Instead, vaccinated players are not subject to regular testing, while unvaccinated players continue to be.

However, according to the NCAA Sport Science Institute’s guidelines, evidence of “substantial or high transmission in the community” could force testing to resume even among vaccinated individuals. The full policy reads as follows: 

The testing schedule for Tier 1 individuals is outlined in the chart below. Fully vaccinated student-athletes and other Tier 1 individuals with no COVID-19-like symptoms may be exempt from routine testing. Student-athletes and other Tier 1 participants who are not vaccinated must continue to undergo testing at NCAA championships.

If there is evidence of substantial or high transmission in the community, or if there are COVID-19 variants that escape the effect of the vaccine, then testing may need to resume for fully vaccinated individuals. Such decisions will be made in conjunction with local public health authorities and/or federal guidance.

The updated testing guidance also applies to Tier 2 and 3 individuals who may be subject to testing protocols at member schools and championships. If Tier 2 individuals are not fully vaccinated, they must undergo and document a negative PCR test within two days of arrival, or a negative antigen test within one day of arrival, and undergo daily self-health checks. Further testing is based on symptoms. Tier 3 individuals who are not fully vaccinated must undergo daily self-health checks, with testing based on symptoms.

Should state or local authorities require testing of vaccinated individuals, their guidance will supersede this policy and vaccinated individuals will be required to be tested.

NC State won its first two games of the CWS, meaning it needed to beat Vanderbilt just once over its next two games to advance to next week’s finals. The Wolfpack fought hard Friday afternoon with limited substitutes, pushing Vanderbilt and ace Kumar Rocker, but ultimately fell short, losing 3-1.

NC State was without four regulars Friday as well as most of its pitching staff. That forced some little-used players into action in a crucial game and the Wolfpack competed well.

That loss set up a winner-take-all rematch Saturday afternoon. NC State coach Elliott Avent said after the game that he hoped some of the players who were ruled out of Friday’s game would return to action Saturday, although it was clear that there was still some uncertainty at that time about what would come next. 

“I have no idea what’s going on, Zero,” Avent said. “You know as much as I know. It just hasn’t been communicated. I know this is an odd situation, and I know people have to deal with things, but we spent all day yesterday—Rob Murphy, Scott Ensell and myself—spent all day yesterday dealing with a lot of things. And then today we got up and dealt with some other things. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll get the information at some point. And when I get the information that the NCAA deems appropriate, then we’ll go from there.”

Avent was also asked in the aftermath of the Vanderbilt game whether or not he encouraged his players to get vaccinated. 

“We talk about a lot of things, you know what I’m saying? But I’ve been coaching for a long time. And I think I’m the — you can call it caretaker, baby-sitter or the guy that the parents drop their young men off and leave them in my care,” he said. “And they’ve raised them to be the quality people that we recruit. And my job is to teach them baseball, make sure they get an education and keep them on the right track forward. But I don’t try to indoctrinate my kids with my values or my things that, my opinions. Obviously we talk about a lot of things. But these are young men that can make their own decisions and that’s what they did.”

In his statement, Corrigan clarified some of the discussion around vaccinations, noting that the university could not require the players to get vaccinated and that some players opted to put off getting vaccinated for fear of side effects from the shot, given that vaccination was not widely available for young people until the season was underway. 

The move brings a bitter taste to what has been a highly competitive CWS, college baseball’s pinnacle event. College baseball played through the pandemic this season without a significant number of games canceled. But the specter of Covid-19 never went away and most weekends there were at least a few series that were altered by the virus. NC State itself previously had its season impacted by Covid-19, as its mid March series against Duke was canceled due to issues with the Wolfpack.

While other college sports experienced similar withdrawals from their championship events, none occurred at such a late stage of competition. The men’s hockey tournament was hit by three withdrawals, including the No. 2 seed Michigan, but all came before the Frozen Four. Virginia Commonwealth men’s basketball was disqualified from the first round of the NCAA Tournament and Rice women’s volleyball was also knocked out because of Covid-19 protocols.

The news brings an end to a surreal day in Omaha, which began with an hour-long delay before NC State’s game against Vanderbilt while Covid protocols and testing were worked out.

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