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Officials investigating potential NCAA tournament COVID-19 exposures after death of 23-year-old Alabama fan

·2-min read
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 12:  Alabama Crimson fans cheer against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second half of their quarterfinal game in the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Alabama defeats Mississippi State 85-48. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Luke Ratliff died this week, days after attending the NCAA tourament. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Health officials in Indianapolis are investigating potential COVID-19 exposures at the NCAA tournament following the death of an Alabama fan. 

Luke Ratliff died on Friday at 23 years old. An Alabama student and a leader of the school's basketball fan club Crimson Chaos, Ratliff was one of Alabama's most visible fans. His father, Bryan Ratliff, confirmed his death Friday night

"He was my son and my best friend,” Bryan Ratliff said, per the Tuscaloosa News. “But he had an extended Alabama family that I never met and he loved them and they loved him."

Alabama athletics posted a tribute to Ratliff on social media.

In February, head coach Nate Oats thanked Ratliff, known as "Fluffopotamus," for leading fan support from the student section. 

Ratliff attended games, returned to Alabama

According to the Tuscaloosa News, Ratliff traveled to Indianapolis and attended games during Alabama's NCAA tournament run, which ended last weekend in a Sweet 16 loss to UCLA. He returned to Tuscaloosa on Monday. 

The Marion County Public Health Department confirmed to the Indianapolis Star on Saturday that it was investigating whether anyone in Indianapolis was exposed to COVID-19 by an Alabama resident and that it had contacted the Alabama Department of Health. It did not confirm that Ratliff was the subject of its investigation.

"We are conducting an investigation following the county and state's standard contact tracing procedures," a statement from the agency reads. "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."

NCAA fans allowed at limited capacity

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the entirety of this year's men's NCAA tournament has taken place in Indianapolis, which was originally slated to host just the Final Four this year. The tournament normally sees teams play in venues across the country during the first two weekends of games. 

The NCAA allowed fans to attend games at 25% capacity at various venues across Indianapolis. Alabama played its opening-round game vs. Iona and against UCLA at Hinkle Fieldhouse. It played its second-round victory over Maryland at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. 

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