COVID-19 Exposure at NCAA Men's Tournament Investigated After Luke Ratliff's Death

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIApril 4, 2021

KINGSTON, RI - NOVEMBER 15: General view of the Alabama Crimson Tide logo during the college basketball game between Alabama Crimson Tide and Rhode Island Rams on November 15, 2019, at Ryan Center in Kingston, RI. (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Marion County (Indiana) Health Department is investigating whether patrons attending the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament were exposed to COVID-19 after reports that Alabama basketball superfan and student Luke Ratliff, who was in attendance for the Crimson Tide's three games, died from complications related to the disease Friday.

Per Emily Hopkins of the Indianapolis Star, the department confirmed that it contacted Alabama's Department of Public Health regarding whether anyone in Indianapolis was exposed to COVID-19 by an Alabama resident. 

Marion County did not mention Ratliff's name in particular but said that its research efforts were based on a news report.

"We are conducting an investigation following the county and state's standard contact tracing procedures," the department stated. "We continue to encourage residents and visitors to practice the simple and important habits that keep us all safe: wearing a mask, washing hands, and social distancing."

Hopkins made it clear that it's unknown where, how or from whom Ratliff contracted COVID-19: "It is unclear whether he had contracted the virus before, during or after his visit to Indianapolis, or where he contracted the virus. It's also unknown whether he was symptomatic while in Indianapolis."

Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News reported Saturday that "multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed" Ratliff's death due to COVID-19.

Alabama's NCAA tournament run ended after the Crimson Tide lost to UCLA in the Sweet 16 last Sunday. The Crimson Tide also played on March 20 and 22.

Ratliff returned to Tuscaloosa on Monday, but he was shortly hospitalized thereafter at DCH Regional Medical Center.

Many people associated with the Alabama program expressed their condolences upon news of Ratliff's death, including head coach Nate Oats and SEC Player of the Year Herbert Jones:

Nate Oats @nate_oats

Devastating news. Doesn’t seem real. Fluff has been our biggest supporter since day one. Put all he had into our program. Loved sharing this ride with him. You’ll be missed dearly my man! Wish we had one more victory cigar and hug together. Roll Tide Forever.@fluffopotamus88 pic.twitter.com/1igys6NdHh

Herbert Jones @_hoopinglife

RIP Fluff !!! Praying for your family bro 😭!! pic.twitter.com/IX2F7ekrNQ

The beloved Ratliff, who grew up in North Carolina, spoke with the Tuscaloosa News about his relationship with the school.

“They’ve taken me in. They’re good people and I appreciate how close they’ve let me get with the program. I feel like I owe them something. Because I feel like I don't deserve half the things, half the recognition, half the acknowledgement, half the accolades that I get because I'm just doing what I love.”

Ratliff was 23 years old.