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NCAA admits mistake in telling South Carolina it was in tournament

Tribune News Service • Apr 1, 2016 at 12:30 PM

This wasn’t salt in the wound. This was pouring an entire case of Morton’s into open-heart surgery.

South Carolina was told it was in the NCAA Tournament, then told it wasn’t, the NCAA said on Thursday. The NCAA responded to a report from NOLA.com’s Ron Higgins by admitting a mistake was made.

“Unfortunately, during the selection show a junior men’s basketball staff member mistakenly sent a text to a member of the University of South Carolina athletics department staff via an app we used for the first time during the 2016 tournament,” read a statement from Dan Gavitt, the NCAA Vice President of men’s basketball championships. “The text was supposed to go to all teams, congratulating them for making the tournament. Regrettably, a text meant for another institution went to South Carolina instead.”

The NCAA did not clarify which institution was supposed to get the text instead of USC. It also said that while it apologized for the mistake, the Gamecocks at no time were voted into the 68-team tournament.

“Ultimately, they were one of the last four teams left out of the tournament,” the statement continued. “I take full responsibility for this clerical error and apologize to [USC] coach [Frank] Martin, his staff and team, and the entire University of South Carolina community.”

The scuttlebutt leading to the NCAA selection show on March 13 was that USC was on the bubble, but should be in. The Gamecocks had won 24 regular-season games, including 11 in the SEC, and despite some bad losses, had beaten tournament participant Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, like USC a team on the bubble.

No power-5 conference team with at least 24 regular-season wins had been left out of the NCAA tournament since at least 2002. Yet when the Gamecocks began to disappear from projections; then the team didn’t attend USC’s selection watch party (Martin later said he pulled the players back after he heard bad news was on the way); and Vanderbilt was one of the first teams announced in the tournament, groans became the room’s soundtrack.

The NCAA set a precedent by leaving the Gamecocks out, and then confirmed it told USC it was in before realizing its mistake. It was the biggest gut-punch to a season that set records only to once again be left out of the game’s defining moment.

The USC basketball office did not immediately return a message seeking comment, and neither did athletic director Ray Tanner. Board of Trustees member Chuck Allen responded to the NCAA’s statement with one of his own.

“In light of the major controversy created by the snubbing of our basketball team from the NCAA Tournament, at least one thing has been universally accepted now — the University of South Carolina was owed an apology by the NCAA. The USC basketball team deserved to be in the tournament,” Allen said. “It was an injustice to Frank Martin, his players and Gamecock Nation to be deprived of an opportunity they earned and deserved.”

The Gamecocks ended the season 25-9 in the second round of the NIT, tying a record for the best season by wins in program history. Vanderbilt wound up being blown out in a First Four game, then saw coach Kevin Stallings depart for Pitt two weeks later. Another bubble team, Monmouth, settled for a No. 1 seed in the NIT, as the Gamecocks did.

A third bubble team, Syracuse, was rewarded for going 4-5 without suspended coach Jim Boeheim. The Orange got into the tournament with a 19-13 record, yet reached the Final Four and plays North Carolina on Saturday.

—David Cloninger

The State (Columbia, S.C.)—

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