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5 positive tests in March Madness bubble; 6 referees ruled out due to COVID-19 protocols

There have been more than 2,300 COVID-19 tests administered as part of the protocols for the tournament.

INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA confirmed Tuesday morning that there have been five positive COVID-19 tests now within the controlled environment for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. There have been more than 2,300 COVID-19 tests administered as part of the protocols for the tournament.

Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, would not say if any of the five positive tests involved players or coaches. 

"Health and safety are going to continue to be our top priority," Gavittsaid.

All teams are now in Indianapolis and quarantining except for Virginia, which will arrive later this week. The deadline for replacement teams is 6 p.m. Tuesday, but the NCAA does not anticipate needing to bring in those teams.

Six top college basketball officials have been removed from the NCAA Tournament because one of the referees tested positive for COVID-19 and contact tracing ruled the others out. The referees who were sent home reportedly include Ted Valentine, John Higgins, Kipp Kissinger and Roger Ayers.

"Based on tournament protocols and contract tracing with local public health authorities, these officials may not participate in the tournament," the NCAA said in a statement.  

According to Stadium's report, the six referees had dinner together at Harry & Izzy’s steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday night. 

When officials arrived Sunday to check into their hotel, the rooms were reportedly not ready and there wasn't any food. So the referees were given permission to leave for dinner and one tested positive for COVID-19 afterward, Stadium and CBS Sports reported.

Valentine spoke on TODAY about what happened.

"We all sat together in dinner we had masks. We followed all the CDC guidelines that we're supposed to have that mask on except for eating and drinking, and it's unfortunate that my dear friend got tested positive. We got the phone call this afternoon that we could no longer participate in the tournament because of contact tracing," Valentine said.

The referee that tested positive had worked conference games over the last weekend, but it was determined there is not concern to those teams. The positive referee is in isolation and the five referees who were in close contact with him are in quarantine.

Credit: AP Photo/Phil Sears
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, center, argues with referee Ted Valentine, left, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.

More than 100 referees usually work the tournament, but this year it will only be 60 due to the pandemic. The NCAA had designated 17 refs to be on standby and is using four of those to replace the six removed. Other refs might need to work extra games to make up the shortfall. The remaining 12 referees on standby will be used if other COVID-related issues arise among the officiating crews.

There are strict protocols in place this year as the NCAA Tournament attempts to play in a "bubble" environment in and around Indianapolis. For players, they had to have negative COVID tests over seven consecutive days before they were even allowed to travel to Indianapolis.