The NCAA had to remove a half dozen of its most experienced officials from the 2021 edition of March Madness, including four who have Final Four experience, because one of them tested positive for COVID-19 and the other five were impacted by contact tracing.
A source who works in college basketball told Sporting News that several of the officials showed up Sunday evening to check into their hotels and submit to virus testing, but they were informed their rooms at the hotel were not ready and were encouraged by an NCAA staffer to use the time before testing would be available that night to get dinner somewhere outside the hotel.
After one of them tested positive upon returning, the source said, the other five at the dinner were informed they could either quarantine for two weeks at the hotel or depart and quarantine at home. Either way they would be done for the tournament and unable to work NCAA Tournament games this season.
There was no option given to quarantine and return to work after a series of negative tests, as has been done with contact tracing of players in the NFL, for instance.
The NCAA typically selects in the neighborhood of 100 game officials to work the event when it is spread across the nation. For this year’s tournament, the source said, there were 60 chosen, presumably to reduce the complication of keeping more people inside the “controlled environment” the NCAA has established in downtown Indianapolis.
That means the NCAA already is having to replace 1/10 of its designated officiating crew just 24 hours after the 68-team bracket was presented to the public.
The NCAA has not yet responded to a request for comment.