COLUMBIA — The shocking removal of N.C. State’s baseball team from the College World Series in the wee hours of June 26 was no way for a season to end. Especially when the Wolfpack, a team that defied the odds all postseason, were set to play a winner-take-all game for a berth in the national championship series.

Yet it will continue to serve as a stark reminder and lesson for all of college sports as they progress in the wake of COVID-19. This is the possible consequence if athletes choose to not get vaccinated.

“Heartbroken is part of it, anger is part of it,” N.C. State Athletics Director Boo Corrigan said, “but at the end of the day, we are where we are.”

Many turned to blame the NCAA, a popular move, although the NCAA acted exactly like it said it would during all of its championship events. The organization always said it would follow the directions of the city/county/state protocols of wherever the championship event was held, and the Douglas County Health Department in Omaha, with the NCAA championship medical team, recommended N.C. State’s removal.

Many again turned COVID into a political fight, preaching that it’s a person’s choice if they want to get vaccinated. They’re correct in that it isn’t required, but highly recommended.

But the facts remain as such:

No vaccinated players were tested unless they were showing symptoms. If the Wolfpack’s entire team had been vaccinated, it’s possible, perhaps likely, nobody ever would have known there was a COVID outbreak.

The NCAA had already shown it would resort to yanking teams from postseason tournaments and declaring forfeits. VCU was punched out of the men’s basketball tournament in the first round, Michigan was dumped from the men’s hockey tournament and Rice was deleted from the women’s volleyball tournament.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said during the men’s and women’s Final Four that there were no contingencies to delay games if a team were to be hit with COVID, even during a championship weekend. The game or games would still be forfeited.

“That would be tragic, obviously,” Emmert said. “It’s why we’ve worked so hard to have protocols in place to avoid that circumstance.”

Nothing happened then, but three months later, baseball’s signature event was marred by it.

It is an athlete’s choice to get or not get the vaccine, but choosing not to can have dire consequences. The example of N.C. State will carry through the next few years, and could again heavily impact the football season, as it did last year.

“We’ve tried to just educate them, and we’re not forcing them to do anything. We’ve educated them with our own doctors, articles that we’ve read, what’s going on with other teams across pro sports, college sports, just trying to make our guys aware of what’s out there and educate them as much as possible,” South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer said. “At the end of the day, we can’t force them to do anything.”

The Gamecocks were one of the few teams that didn’t have a game postponed during last year’s abbreviated season, playing all of their 10 games as scheduled. It was standard practice across the rest of the country for games to be delayed or postponed, then shoehorned in whenever there was an open date.

That was a necessity teams knew they would encounter. But this year, that necessity disappears.

“There’s no postponing things this year, it’s a forfeit. You work all week to play Georgia and you don’t have the minimum roster numbers, it’s not you get to play Georgia in December, you don’t play Georgia,” Beamer said. “That’s whether you’re Alabama, Georgia, us anybody. It’s certainly different, and our guys are aware of that.”

Beamer confirmed that not all of his players have been vaccinated, but many had.

“We’re not near 100 percent, but we’re not near 30 percent either. It’s a lot more than what it was in the springtime, I’ll say that,” he said.

There will doubtless be many teams of the same ratio competing this fall. A private school — such as Vanderbilt, N.C. State’s opponent that got a free pass into the finals — can legally require all students to be vaccinated and remove the choice. Public schools can’t.

The students and thus student-athletes attending those public schools and competing in collegiate sports will have a choice to make. What happened to N.C. State will resonate, but its true impact may not be felt until it happens to a football team in the fall.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

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