Six prominent men's basketball officials have been sent home from the NCAA Tournament due to COVID-19 protocols, according to a new report.
Per Jeff Goodman of Stadium, the six officials are Ted Valentine, Roger Ayers, John Higgins, John Gaffney, Kipp Kissinger and Ray Natili. Combined, the men have worked 18 Final Fours.
The NCAA is putting all of the coaches, players, team personnel and officials involved in the 2021 NCAA Tournament through rigorous COVID testing and protocols upon arrival in Indianapolis. Only one of those six referees tested positive, but the others were disqualified for close contact.
The reason? The group dined together at a local restaurant on Sunday night after some of their hotel rooms were not ready upon arrival.
"Instead of having the officials wait in a secure area, they were allowed to leave for dinner and the group of Valentine, Higgins, Ayers, John Gaffney, Kipp Kissinger and Ray Natili all went to Harry & Izzy’s steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis," Goodman wrote.
"Upon their return to the hotel, they took COVID-19 tests and one of the referees tested positive, sources told Stadium. He then tested twice on Monday morning, and tested positive."
Obviously, this is major news, and a sign of how even the littlest slip in protocols can be disastrous. Let's hope that no teams fall victim to something like this and have to withdraw from the field.
The deadline for a team to withdraw and be replaced is tomorrow at 6 p.m. ET. If a team can not participate due to COVID-19 at some point later in the tournament, they will simply forfeit their game and spot in the bracket.