Six referees removed from March Madness due to COVID-19 protocols

Six of the most high-profile NCAA Tournament officials have been removed from this year's March Madness after a positive COVID-19 test and subsequent contact tracing efforts, the NCAA confirmed on Tuesday. Among those who were sent home include Ted Valentine, John Higgins, Kipp Kissinger and Roger Ayers.

All four officials rank in the top 12 of KenPom's season-long "officials rankings."

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

The referees were told to arrive by Sunday night to check into their hotel and were asked by the NCAA to stay there to follow protocols. Upon their arrival, however, their rooms weren't ready and there wasn't food. They were given permission to leave for dinner, and a sliver of the group went to a steakhouse in Indianapolis together that caused some of them to be removed by contact tracing. Only later when they returned to the hotel and took COVID-19 tests did they discover that one of the officials tested positive for the virus.

The NCAA has implemented strict protocols for players, coaches and staffers in this year's NCAA Tournament, including assigned seating for bus rides, to try and avoid contact tracing wiping out large swaths of teams and wreaking havoc on the bracket. But a positive test for one of the officials that wipes out some of the most highly-regarded referees for the sports's biggest annual event is a challenging pill for the NCAA to swallow as the week is just beginning. 

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