On NC State Baseball

“God don’t like ugly.”

Those were words spoken by my grandmother anytime something happened that just wasn’t quite right in her eye. What transpired on Saturday regarding the NCAA’s decision to expel N.C. State from the 2021 College World Series was the epitome of ugly.

The NC State Baseball team was kicked out of the College World Series in the wee hours of Saturday morning due to what the NCAA deemed as COVID-19 protocols. But this fiasco began on Friday, when the start of the game between the Wolfpack and the Vanderbilt Commodores was delayed for an hour due to “health and safety protocols.” N.C. State was able to field a team comprised of 13 of its usual 27 players and ultimately lost the game, forcing a deciding game on Saturday with the winner advancing to the College World Series Final.

But something changed in about seven hours time – what changed, I guess we’ll never completely know. The Pack was declared ineligible to continue in the tournament which gave a free pass into the Finals to Vanderbilt as a result. The news sent shockwaves throughout the sports world, particularly on social media. Current and former players, NC State and non-NC State fans, as well as numerous talking heads in the world of sports chimed in to voice their displeasure with the NCAA for what is being viewed as a callous decision.

For me, it hits particularly hard as an alumnus of NC State. I completely understand the COVID situation. We are still in this pandemic and infections can happen, whether folks are vaccinated or not. It’s not about that. However, I’m upset with how it was handled by the NCAA. It has become commonplace for the NCAA to botch its duties as a governing body and it was no different in this case.

Several reports on social media and the like have lended themselves to the opinion that there may have been a double standard in regard to testing for the student-athletes in Omaha. Namely, between NC State and Vanderbilt from Friday to Saturday. Again, we may never know the full breadth of what happened. What’s more, The Washington Post and AP reported that Phil Rooney, spokesman for the Douglas County (N.E.) Health Department, said the “health department did not recommend NC State’s removal but told the NCAA the department would support whatever decision the NCAA made.” This conflicts with NCAA officials’ public statement on the matter, which said, “This decision was made based on the recommendation of the Championship Medical Team and the Douglas County Health Department.”

That being said, if the Pack’s COVID situation did get bad to the point of being forced out of the College World Series, then what is being done to test Vanderbilt? After all, the two teams had played twice in the past week. NCAA protocol does not initially call for testing of vaccinated players unless certain criteria are met and reports said Vanderbilt team members tested negative after games with the Pack. That is all well and good, but the incubation period for COVID-19 can be anywhere from 2-14 days, according to the CDC.

Also, why couldn’t the remainder of the College World Series be postponed to a later date in an effort to create a safe and equal playing environment for the teams remaining, including NC State as opposed to banishing the team virtually without proper communication or warning. Entities have been doing that since the onset of the pandemic and it has been just fine. Oh, that’s right. The NCAA needs to make that money off the 20,000+ fans in attendance during any given game in Omaha.

As far as I’ve seen, the NCAA has mostly kept mum on many of the questions be raised and giving additional details to the general public on this situation, cowering behind a wall of “privacy” instead and going as far as to not even properly congratulating the Pack on the brilliant season it had.

In fact, it took the @NCAACWS account on Twitter a whopping 18 hours after the decision to post any sort of “thank you” tweet for NC State. Which was not a proper one, anyway. The NCAA’s social media team decided it would also be perfectly fine to post a congratulatory tweet for Vanderbilt “advancing” to the College World Series Final a mere 17 minutes after tweeting the statement about the decision to send NC State home. 17 minutes.

Another tweet touted an attendance of 21,000+ possibly vaccinated, possibly not and untested fans at Saturday night’s Texas and Mississippi State game. Social Media 101: it’s probably not a good idea to post a tweet bragging about fan attendance after the very organization you represent claimed “health and safety” when deciding to strip NC State of its rightful place in the event. A hollow claim at that given the NCAA had no problem allowing thousands of fans in to watch the games, no social distancing, masks, questions about vaccination status, or testing required.

The disrespect is nothing new, as fans roasted the same social media team for not mentioning Wolfpack pitcher, Sam Highfill, by name for his outstanding performance in the Pack’s first game against Vanderbilt earlier in the week. It only got worse from there and certainly contributed to the furor of NC State and non-NC State fans alike after the decision on Saturday.

I join the chorus of expressing complete disdain for what happened, here. Again, not by the fact that COVID dealt another gut wrenching blow to hopes and dreams, but how everything was ineptly handled by NCAA officials. There is no sense to why NCAA officials gave the Pack the opportunity to play one day and then not the very next day. I’ve continued to sit and think of the scenarios in my head and none of it makes sense. It never will.

In any case, I’m incredibly proud of this Wolfpack Baseball team for what was accomplished. A team that started 4-9 and then got better and better as the season carried on. A team that traveled away from home in both its Regional and Super Regional matchups, taking down a good Louisiana Tech squad and number one overall seed Arkansas en route to Omaha. A team that won two games in the College World Series – defeating Vanderbilt and taking down one of its best pitchers while having a good chance to do it again. A team that was one win removed from the College World Series Final before that rightful opportunity to compete was snatched away.

I will not be watching any more coverage of the College World Series and will also watch any NCAA-sanctioned sport for the foreseeable future. It was truly infuriating to see my alma mater, members of our baseball program, and fans being treated in this manner. I will, however, be heading to Raleigh in the coming days to stock up on more NC State gear to wear proudly.

God don’t like ugly, and I know the Pack will be back. 🐺🤘🏻♥️

Photo Courtesy: Mike Bowman via Unsplash

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