How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting March Madness

Evan Miller

The 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was canceled because of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. One year later, March Madness is back, but COVID is still wreaking havoc on the tournament. The one improvement that has been made this year is that the vaccination effort is currently being ramped up, cases are on the decline, there is widespread testing, and everyone is much more knowledgeable about the deadly virus that was completely unknown a year ago.

Before the tournament even got underway, the Virginia Cavaliers and the Kansas Jayhawks had to deal with their own outbreak of the coronavirus. Both teams were forced to withdraw from their respective conference tournaments (the ACC and the Big 12). The Jayhawks had three players test positive and those players were forced to travel to Indianapolis in waves. According to IndyStar, forward Jalen Wilson will not be available for the first game of the tournament, but could be ready for the second round and wing Tristan Enaruna will join the team after the first two rounds, should they make it that far.

Three days before the First Four games got underway, on March 15, six NCAA referees were sent home from Indianapolis after one referee tested positive. The referees had gone out to dinner in Indianapolis after being told their hotel rooms were not ready yet. According to ESPN, four referees were replaced “from a pool of reserves” and two will not be replaced. That brings the total number of referees available in the tournament to 58.

The day after the six referees were sent home, on March 16, Georgia Tech reported a positive case of the coronavirus, who would later be named as player Moses Wright. Wright was deemed unable to play in the team’s first round game against Loyola Chicago.

On March 17, the Oklahoma Sooners announced that guard De’Vion Harmon will miss the first two rounds of the tournament after testing positive for COVID-19. It should be noted that the Sooners played Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament before the Jayhawks had three players test positive and were forced to withdraw from the tournament.

With all of these cases, the NCAA will continue with the tournament as scheduled in Indianapolis.