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Six March Madness referees ruled out due to COVID-19 protocols

According to reports, the six tournament referees had dinner together at an Indianapolis steakhouse on Sunday night. One of them later tested positive for COVID-19.

WASHINGTON — Six top college basketball officials have been removed from the NCAA tournament because one of the referees tested positive for COVID-19 and contact tracing ruled the others out, the NCAA announced Monday night. 

The referees who were sent home reportedly include Ted Valentine, John Higgins, Kipp Kissinger and Roger Ayers, Stadium and CBS Sports reported.

The NCAA confirmed an official tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and five others were "identified as exposure risks due to prolonged close contact" the day before.  

"Based on tournament protocols and contract tracing with local public health authorities, these officials may not participate in the tournament," the NCAA said in a statement.  

According to Stadium's report, the six referees had dinner together at Harry & Izzy’s steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday night.

When officials arrived Sunday to check into their hotel, the rooms were reportedly not ready and there wasn't any food. So the referees were given permission to leave for dinner and one tested positive for COVID-19 afterward, Stadium and CBS Sports reported. 

The NCAA said Tuesday that four replacement referees had been previously approved and are in place and quarantining ahead of the tournament. 

"Health and safety are going to continue to be our top priority," Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball. 

While the NCAA typically has more than 100 refs for March Madness, there are only 60 this year because of pandemic precautions. Gavitt said Tuesday there were 17 referees on standby. 

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There are strict protocols in place this year as the NCAA Tournament attempts to play in a "Bubble" environment in and around Indianapolis. For players, no one can show up for the games without seven negative COVID tests.