Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

To play or not to play: The Coach K conundrum

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been outspoken about playing college hoops during a pandemic.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been outspoken about playing college hoops during a pandemic.
Image: Getty Images

This is a column about Duke basketball and Coach K. Most of you despise the two, while I, on the other hand, cheer for them harder than any team I’ve ever rooted for.

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But, what I’m about to say isn’t about emotion. It’s about doing the right thing. And that’s why it’s time for Coach K to shut the season down.

On Saturday, Duke had their game against Florida State postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test in the FSU program. The Blue Devils were already in Tallahassee. They had to turn around and fly home. It was going to be their first game since December 16, after Coach K decided to give his team a break by canceling the rest of Duke’s non-conference slate. Their December 29 game against Pittsburgh was also postponed due to a positive test in Pitt’s program. The game was supposed to have been Pitt head coach Jeff Capel’s first game back after COVID-19 nearly sent him to the hospital. In case you forgot, Capel played at Duke and was a former assistant coach.

As of Sunday, out of the ACC’s 15 men’s basketball programs, only two, UNC and Miami, have yet to see a game canceled or postponed this season. And while Duke hasn’t been the reason why its schedule is a mess, it’s become one of the best examples of why playing sports during a pandemic without a bubble isn’t a good idea.

Before Saturday’s game was canceled, Duke was already going to be without Coach K as he came into contact with someone outside the program that tested positive.

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Like everything else in life, COVID-19 is having its way with college basketball. If you do a Google search of college basketball coaches that have tested positive this season, it will take you down a rabbit hole that will lead you to ask yourself one question.

How is this sport still functioning?

“We continue to change week to week and we’re going to have to navigate that because that’s the landscape that we’re in,” Coach K said before the season started. “Hopefully, by the time we do play, there will be national protocols medically so that everyone who’s playing against one another will be under the same medical protocols, which I think are essential to the safety of these kids.”

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Less than two months later, Coach K said this:

“I don’t think it feels right to anybody. I mean everyone is concerned.”

“I’m not sure who leads college basketball. It’s done by committee. Anything that’s led by a committee is not agile in handling a situation. There was a consensus. It wasn’t, like, well-planned. Just that we were going to start Nov. 25. That was made without knowing where the vaccine was, how many cases. Basically, it was more a mentality of get as many games in as possible. I would just like for the safety, the mental and physical health of players and staff to assess where we’re at.”

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Most people mocked him because Duke had just gotten waxed by Illinois at home. Others felt like his words weren’t enough. Action was needed.

Two days later, Duke canceled its non-conference games.

Two days after that, everything changed. Florida swingman Keyontae Johnson collapsed during a game against Florida State. Things got so bad he was in a medically induced coma. There have been multiple reports that he has myocarditis, a heart inflammation, which has been linked to COVID-19.

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Thirteen days after that — on Christmas — the Duke women’s team announced that it was done.

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Duke is scheduled to play Boston College on Wednesday night. If that happens, it will be the first time it will have played in 21 days, and only the seventh game as a program since March 7th.

COVID-19 is the reason why there hasn’t been a lot of basketball played at Duke lately. All the more reason for why it’s time to shut it down.

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Besides, who’s going to tell the most powerful man in the sport what he can and can’t do with this team. It might lead to others following his lead, which would be the best and safest option for everyone.

Saginaw Native. Morehouse Man. Syracuse (Newhouse) Alum. 2019 & 2020 NABJ Award Winner. 2016 PABJ Journalist of the Year. I only eat my wings lemon-peppered. And I like brown liquor & brown women.