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AP photo by Rebecca S. Gratz / Vanderbilt's Javier Vaz steals second base ahead of the tag from N.C. State's Carson Falsken in the ninth inning of their game Friday afternoon at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Personal freedom.

We all want that, right? That's one of the things that makes America great. One of the very biggest things.

But what if your determination to exercise your personal freedom by, for instance, not being vaccinated for COVID-19, wrecks other people's personal freedom — even your baseball teammates — to go as far in the College World Series as their athletic talents can take them?

Is that fair? Did your coaches and teammates know it going in? Had they voted to let the chips fall where they may when it comes to the coronavirus? In other words, that national championship would be nice, but if you're really opposed to being vaccinated and the rest of us have to forfeit our dreams one win short of reaching the title series, well, hey, we're all for you taking a stand at the expense of the rest of us celebrating on the victory stand.

Maybe that's a far too simplistic account of what got the North Carolina State baseball team tossed from the College World Series in the wee small hours of Saturday morning — around 2:10 a.m. EDT, to be more specific — apparently due to COVID-19 protocols, though the official statement regarding the Wolfpack's removal was a bit more vague.

"The NCAA and the committee regret that N.C. State's student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to continue in the championship in which they earned the right to participate," the statement read in part. "Because of privacy issues, we cannot provide further details."

So Vanderbilt — which avoided elimination Friday by winning against a roster-depleted Wolfpack — is now through to the best-of-three championship series set to begin Monday. What was to be a rematch of the bracket finalists Saturday with the winner advancing and the loser eliminated was ruled a no-contest.

Is that fair? Perhaps not. There was certainly a crusade on social media to let the N.C. State players who hadn't tested positive compete as long as there were enough to field a team. And if you're 100% certain none of those players is contagious, that they can't possibly give COVID-19 to any of the opposing players, umpires or stadium workers, that would make sense.

It might also have made sense to take that approach with the men's hockey teams at Michigan and Notre Dame, the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team and the Rice women's volleyball team when they were limited by COVID-19 protocols during their NCAA championship events.

But that's not what happened. They were all removed from competition, their seasons coming to screeching, emotionally painful conclusions because of a virus we still know far less about than we wish.

Merely consider this from D1Baseball.com, which reported early Saturday that not only did two Wolfpack players who hadn't been vaccinated test positive, but also that four who had been vaccinated tested positive.

If that's true, assuming the tests weren't false positives, shouldn't we all be a bit concerned? How safe are any of us if you can test positive, or worse, BE POSITIVE, after being vaccinated?

And for all those who believe Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin pushed for this in order to get his Commodores a free pass to the final round, what would you have done? Forget the winning and losing. Instead, focus on the health of your players. Would you want your team to take the field against an opponent you already knew had multiple players test positive?

Exactly.

This is not to say the NCAA shouldn't have to answer some questions. Maybe lots of questions, beginning with when it first knew of the positive tests, especially after Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent told some media members as far back as Monday that an illness was running through his team.

Instead, nothing seemed amiss until Friday afternoon's game was delayed an hour before the Wolfpack took the field with a patchwork lineup. N.C. State lost 3-1, which was surely closer than it should have been given the disparity in available players as the Wolfpack dressed but 13 (nine position players and four pitchers).

But let's move forward to that announcement in the middle of the night that N.C. State was being sent home. Why do that then, when most, if not all, of the team was likely sleeping in preparation for what the Wolfpack believed would be an elimination game Saturday?

And just what were the NCAA reasons for this decision? If you're going to shatter a team's national championship dreams, shouldn't that team — and everybody else — know the reasons why?

Lastly, if Avent was previously aware some of his players had not been vaccinated, shouldn't he have ordered them to wear masks when around the others? Ordering a player to get a vaccine is one thing. Ordering one to wear a mask in order to protect his teammates if he chooses not to be vaccinated is another.

The reality of all this sinking in on Saturday morning, Wolfpack athletic director Boo Corrigan released a statement that read, in part: "The timing of this is simply devastating for everyone involved, but it doesn't diminish their incredible accomplishments this season."

Perhaps not, but it certainly diminishes the joy and luster of what remains of the College World Series. It just might also diminish what we've all hoped we knew about the power of the vaccine.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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