After the NCAA’s surreal middle-of-the-night announcement that North Carolina State was being removed from the College World Series due to Covid-19 protocols, the college baseball world on Saturday struggled to come to terms with the news.
Across the country, coaches and players commiserated with NC State for the way its season was halted.
NC State had its season ended early Saturday morning after a whirlwind day. On Friday, it was scheduled to play Vanderbilt in the bracket final, needing one win to advance to the CWS finals. That game was initially delayed due to health and safety protocols and the Wolfpack eventually took the field with just 13 available players—nine position players and four pitchers. NC State lost to Vanderbilt, 3-1, setting up a winner-take-all rematch on Saturday.
After the game, coach Elliott Avent said the Wolfpack were hopeful that more players would become available for Saturday’s game. Instead, after another round of testing, four more players—all vaccinated—tested positive and the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee declared Saturday’s game a forfeit, advancing Vanderbilt to the finals.
NC State was not the first team this year to be removed from an NCAA Tournament due to Covid-19 protocols. In Division I sports it had previously happened three times in the men’s hockey tournament, once in men’s basketball and once in women’s volleyball. But the Wolfpack’s removal came at a later stage than any of the other teams. They were one win away from playing for the national championship when they ran into Covid-19 issues.
The abruptness with which NC State’s season came to an end—just shy of reaching the sport’s biggest stage—had one assistant coach wondering about what could be done to support the players.
“Mentally, how are they handling it because that’s a pretty big punch in the gut,” he said. “I understand the NCAA’s stance but how do you deal with it now?
“Outside of losing a loved one that has to be the lowest point in a lot of these kids’ lives.”
The lack of clarity from the NCAA—NC State coach Elliott Avent said after Friday’s game, when the Wolfpack had just 13 available players, that he had “no understanding of what happened today”—also chaffed many coaches. While NC State may have had an unusually low vaccination rate other teams could well have found themselves in similar situations.
As with so much in the last 15 months, the pandemic found a way to insert itself at the worst time. For NC State and the College World Series that meant an abrupt ending and a day that will long live in infamy. For college baseball, it was difficult news to process.
Princeton head coach Scott Bradley tweeted a message of support for NC State’s players.
“Needless to say that Covid has dramatically impacted so many! Loved ones lost, jobs and businesses lost! Athletics can’t be compared but Covid strikes again! Stay strong NC State and always remember this amazing season for what it was and not for what it could have been!”
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