NCAA removes 6 men’s tournament refs after positive COVID-19 test following steakhouse dinner: report

Six of the NCAA’s top Men’s Basketball Tournament officials were sent home this week after one ref tested positive following a dinner outside the event’s secure area, according to multiple reports. 

Ted Valentine, John Higgins and Roger Ayers were among the six veterans removed from the tournament after an unknown member of the group tested positive, which led to the removal of the rest because of contract tracing, multiple outlets reported. 

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The NCAA confirmed the news in a statement obtained by CBS Sports.

“The NCAA has replaced several officials for March Madness because of a positive COVID-19 test,” the statement began. “One official tested positive [on] March 15, and five other officials the person interacted with the day before were identified as exposure risks due to prolonged close contact.” 

It continued: “Based on tournament protocols and contract tracing with local public health authorities, these officials may not participate in the tournament. The infected official must be placed in isolation, and the other officials must be placed in quarantine. Four replacement officials have been previously approved and meet the pre-tournament testing protocols. Two of the officials will not be replaced.”

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It’s hard to say how the official might have contracted COVID-19, but according to Stadium, the referees were told to arrive in Indianapolis on Sunday night to check into their rooms. When they got there, several were informed that their rooms were not ready and food was not available. 

Valentine, Higgins, Ayers, John Gaffney, Kipp Kissinger and Ray Natili reportedly went for dinner at Harry & Izzy’s Steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis after they were told they could leave. 

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According to the report, Higgins, Valentine and Ayers have officiated 17 Final Fours between the three of them.