Friday night's Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinal between Northern Iowa and Drake has been canceled due to positive COVID-19 test and subsequent contract tracing within the UNI program, and Drake will advance to Saturday's semifinals, the league announced. The game was set to be the third of four for the day played at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis as the league moves toward crowning a champion -- and an NCAA Tournament automatic qualifier -- Sunday on CBS.
"UNI and other institutions ultimately relied on Conference policies that have been in place all season and were thought to be applicable here at the tournament," Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin said in a statement. "It should be noted that UNI followed those procedures during their participation in the event. However the City of St. Louis Board of Health Department COVID orders take precedence over MVC protocols, and none of our institutions were aware that this was in place. In all prior communication we had with St. Louis' local health authorities, we had clearly indicated that the MVC adhered to C.D.C guidelines and NCAA Resocialization Guidelines.
"The MVC did not have the necessary conversations with local health officials to clarify that the administration of the tournament would be governed by St. Louis Health Commissioner's COVID orders. I apologize and take full responsibility for not resolving the administration of policies that are in place during this year's tournament."
The decision, which was met with dismay from Northern Iowa athletic director David Harris, ends the Panthers' season with a 10-15 record after they struggled following a season-ending surgery for leading scorer A.J. Green in December.
"I'm frustrated and angry that our student-athletes didn't have an opportunity to play tonight," Harris wrote on Twitter. "That opportunity was earned. The conference statement speaks in part to my frustration. I can't put into words the depth of my disappointment for these young men. They deserved better."
Beyond the revenue that it generates, this conference tournament is particularly important for the MVC, because both Drake and Loyola Chicago are on the NCAA Tournament bubble, according to Jerry Palm's Bracketology. Under the most advantageous of circumstances for the conference, both teams could secure at-large bids and another team could win the league title to give the MVC three NCAA Tournament bids. However, both Loyola Chicago and Drake entered Friday as projected No. 12 seeds for the Big Dance with Drake considered one of Jerry Palm's "last four in," meaning the MVC could also be a just a one-bid league, depending on how things shake out.
Given the tenuous resumes of both Drake and Loyola Chicago, neither is in great position to withdraw from the tournament as a COVID-19 precaution and rest on the laurels of their current resume. But with the event taking place in a single arena, there will obviously be concerns about virus gaining a foothold in a way that could impair a program's ability to continue with this postseason. In the semifinals, Drake will face the winner of Friday night's scheduled final quarterfinal between Valparaiso and Missouri State.