Communication from the NCAA to N.C. State was “essentially non-existent” for two days after the Wolfpack had their first player test positive for COVID-19 at the College World Series, a newly obtained letter states.
The emailed letter, provided to News & Observer on Wednesday morning, is a correspondence between N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson and NCAA president Mark Emmert. In it, Woodson writes that school officials could not get a meeting with decision-makers at the CWS until 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, June 24. N.C. State first had a player and coach test positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, June 22, and that same player reported symptoms of the virus Sunday, June 20.
“We do not have clear answers from NCAA officials,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent wrote to Woodson on Sunday, June 27. “... When they realized their mistakes and lack of preparation they proceeded to cover their tracks and incompetence by making up rules and guidelines on the fly.”
The News & Observer published online Wednesday part of Avent’s email in a story, based on hundreds of pages of documents N.C. State released through a records request, that detailed his team’s removal from the College World Series. After the story posted, the university released two more documents: A letter from Woodson to Emmert, and Emmert’s response.
Woodson’s letter, dated July 1, provides insight into N.C. State’s pursuit of answers, and its frustration with how the NCAA handled a situation that devolved quickly in Omaha, Nebraska, where the Wolfpack was one of four remaining teams vying for a national championship.
“We take full accountability for the positive results that led to our team’s departure,” Woodson wrote. “However, we still have many significant concerns about the NCAA’s handling of protocols and communications with our team and our university.”
Among the concerns Woodson outlined in the letter:
▪ ”A clear lack of on-site coordination between the NCAA and local health officials” in Omaha.
▪ ”Confusion about roles” among NCAA and public health personnel, “and confusion about who was in charge.”
▪ “Insufficient planning regarding isolation and quarantine ... and how to conduct contact tracing.”
▪ “Disrespectful lack of communication” from the NCAA.
▪ The lack of defined protocols and procedures related to the handling of positive virus cases.
According to the letter, N.C. State learned at 1:45 a.m. on Saturday, June 26, that it’d been disqualified from the CWS due to positive COVID cases. The NCAA announced the decision in a post on Twitter at 2:10 a.m., Eastern Time.
“The mishandling of the announcement left us with little time to effectively communicate with our own players about this decision before they were awakened by it Saturday morning,” Woodson wrote.
Emmert responded in an emailed letter on July 7 and offered his sympathy. He defended his organization, though, and wrote, “I am confident that the NCAA staff and committee members followed the protocols that all schools agreed to follow.” The documents NC State provided to the N&O showed the NCAA’s protocols detailed testing guidelines, but not how to handle positive cases.
After eight N.C. State players tested positive for the virus, Emmert wrote, “It was clear that NC State’s team could not continue the competition. Following our protocols, we contained a serious outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19, thereby not endangering the safety of other teams and the public at large.”
Before its disqualification, N.C. State had been one victory away from advancing to the best-of-three championship series in Omaha. The Wolfpack played Vanderbilt twice that week, defeating the Commodores the first time and losing the second after positive virus cases left NC State with 13 players whom the NCAA allowed to play.
Vanderbilt, which lost in the championship series, was not subject to contact tracing after its two games against the Wolfpack. The College World Series, meanwhile, was played in front of a full stadium in Omaha, where on social media the NCAA highlighted the attendance figures. Spectators were not subject to testing or protocols related to the virus.
Emmert in his letter wrote that “we have some level of disagreement on the specifics” Woodson outlined but that “we could have handled some matters more smoothly.” A university spokesman, Fred Demarest, said Tuesday that NC State is still seeking answers surrounding the circumstances that led to its exit from the CWS.