Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Two years in a row, the VCU men’s basketball season came to an end the same way: cut entirely too short as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, I was sitting courtside in Brooklyn just before the Atlantic 10 tournament game between VCU and UMass; the game was canceled just seconds before the National Anthem was played due to the rapid spread of the virus. Fast forward a little over a year later, a similar result occurred, this time at the NCAA tournament.
The Rams’ NCAA tournament game on Saturday against Oregon was declared a no contest three hours before tipoff due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests. The team left Indianapolis Saturday night; the unaffected players flew out before midnight and those that were affected took a charter bus home.
“This is what you dream of as a college player and a coach,” coach Mike Rhoades said. “To get it taken away like this, it’s just a heartbreaking moment in their young lives.”
We didn’t know what the following year would be like when the A-10 tournament was canceled in 2020, but this year we did. Heck, we didn’t know if a season would be played. The team did its part, following all the protocols in place. The positive tests from the Rams that were received on Saturday were its first since June.
That’s nine months of COVID-19 testing, staying within the “bubble” and keeping with the strict VCU protocols. The players sacrificed a lot to play this season.
These are guys that haven’t been able to make friends outside of the team. They’ve been mostly contained to the Basketball Development Center and their apartments, according to Rhoades. The players didn’t get to go home much during the last nine months; some only spent a few days with their families for Christmas and others didn’t at all.
“Even though we’re a young team, they did things off the court the right way,” Rhoades said. “They stayed away from their families … they didn’t have much of a life except doing their classes and coming to the gym every day.”
To point fingers at those that tested positive is not the answer. It’s not their fault the season is over. It’s just an unlucky outcome to end the season.
One of the team’s many core values is appreciation — that’s a word heard many times from Rhoades and the players during this season. It’s time we appreciate the fact that the Rams played 26 games, one of the most played in the A-10 conference, finishing 19-7.
“Things like this occur, I hope it makes them understand why that core value is so important to me,” Rhoades said. “To us, it’s to appreciate all the opportunities because they can easily be taken away like the last two years.”
VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin said he wouldn’t change anything in VCU’s COVID-19 protocols, and he shouldn’t. The team worked the entire season to follow the rules; the first in-season positive tests happened to occur at one of the worst possible times.
“I think we did the right things all the way through,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t know if it’s bad luck or what it is. It’s just terrible.”
At the end of the day, it’s bigger than basketball. The death toll from the pandemic far outweighs the cancelation of a basketball game. Rhoades put it best, just 90 minutes after finding out the season was over.
“But in the last year, we’re talking about two basketball games,” Rhoades said. “There’s been over 500,000 deaths in this country because of this virus. As devastated as we are over a basketball game — two of them, right? — there’s a lot of people who have it worse than us.”
Don’t place the blame on the men’s basketball team. Rather, appreciate the fact that the Rams could play 26 games in the middle of a pandemic. It’s just a game — the players are 18-22 years old and they’re human too.