North Carolina State baseball had the unthinkable happen to them prior to yesterday’s game against Vanderbilt. With a trip to the national championship on the line, the NCAA stepped in and notified the Wolfpack that several of their players — including two unvaccinated players — had tested positive for COVID, minutes before the start of their game.
The Wolfpack were forced to play in Friday’s game with just 13 players: nine position players and four pitchers. NC State had to field a team still, but several of their top players were all of a sudden unavailable. Sam Highfill, one of the Wolfpack’s star pitchers (also the man who outdueled Jack Leiter earlier in the CWS), had to start the game at first base. There was madness at the beginning of the game as the NC State coaching staff scrambled to put together a lineup out of what players they had remaining. Despite all that, the Wolfpack battled. They hung tough against one of the nation’s top pitchers, Kumar Rocker, even though they ultimately lost the game, 3-1. That loss set Vanderbilt and NC State up for a winner-take-all final game for a chance to play in the national championship...at least it would’ve had the NCAA not decided to step in and declare the game a no-contest handing Vanderbilt the win without having to play at all.
The one question on my mind after this ruling: “How could the NCAA defend this? How in the world could they defend not allowing a team capable of fielding a team full of healthy players to compete on their sport’s biggest stage?” And I don’t think they can.
I’m not here to talk about the two players on NC State who chose not to get vaccinated. I’m not here to talk about the NCAA’s decision to remove the players who tested positive and others who’d been traced to those players prior to Friday’s game. This is solely about their decision to force NC State to forfeit today’s game.
Why? You know, for an organization that claims to always have the best interests of the athletes in mind, this is a pretty cold-blooded move. The entire premise of the college baseball season is to compete for a chance to play in the College World Series. The Wolfpack earned that opportunity, and it was taken away from them. They have been robbed of a chance to make history for their college.
Let’s for a moment pretend these NC State players were injured instead of COVID-positive. What would happen? Well, it’s likely that those players would be sent home and their team would be forced to field a team with what they had left, exactly what happened on Friday. So, why are the rules different the following day? This would never happen in the College Football Playoff. This would never happen in the Final Four of March Madness. It should have never happened in the College World Series.
What does the NCAA expect to happen now? They didn’t want any players to be potentially exposed to COVID by playing the already socially-distant game of baseball, so instead, they sent a team home before they should. That team is about to get on a plane, where people sit six inches apart in a giant metal tube with recycled air. Is that really a better option to keep the players safe? Sure, the team might have still had to leave the following day if they’d lost to Vanderbilt, but more time for players to recover or get proper PPE before flying home is always the better option.
The NC State players are right to be upset about this ruling.
The NCAA allowed the entirety of NC State’s baseball team to take the CWS field for a picture after Friday night’s game.
But letting that team play for a national championship? Woah, woah, woah. Now, they’ve gone too far.
There’s also, of course, the argument that the NCAA was being hypocritical for testing its players without testing the fans in attendance. If you’re one of those people who agrees with the NCAA’s decision to force NC State to forfeit, you should be more upset about the NCAA’s decision to not test any of the fans in attendance for COVID. The NCAA knew what it was doing. It’s obvious that by not testing the fans for COVID, they were saying that they cared more about the money the fans would bring in than the safety of the fans. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s inconsistency. When a person or group says one thing or treats a certain group differently than others. That stuff bugs me. If you’re going to hold your student-athletes accountable, you have to treat the fans the same way.
Or at least hold all of your student-athletes to the same standard. Reports indicate that zero Vanderbilt players were tested for COVID prior to Friday’s game. Doesn’t that seem a little odd to force one team to participate shorthanded without the other team having to endure the same safety protocols?
This win can’t feel good for Vanderbilt either. Ask any college athlete and they’ll tell you that victory tastes best when it is earned. When it’s handed to you, it’s empty, meaningless. You take the win and say thank you, but it feels about as good as a kick to the stomach after a dinner at Olive Garden. The Commodores are now two wins away from becoming the first repeat College World Series champions since South Carolina in 2011. They will face either Texas or Mississippi State in the final best-of-three. Do they deserve it? Absolutely. Vandy has been an excellent team all year carried by incredible starting pitching and clutch hitting. However, NC State also deserved it. They were just never given a chance. Pathetic.