As 2020 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils. Check out the rest of the top 10 here.
Coming in at No. 9: Duke football returns to play following one of the most tumultuous offseasons in the sport's history.
This past March, the COVID-19 pandemic put the sporting world on pause—the NBA was the first of many professional leagues to halt its season, while the NCAA ceased activity just as winter sports were concluding and spring sports were entering their stride.
As colleges nationwide formulated their own responses to the outbreak and plans for the fall semester, the fate of the college football season was thrown into question. Even with some professional sports returning to play during the summer, questions remained: When, if at all, would it be safe to return to campus? Would college sports even be a possibility? From the very beginning, Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe voiced his belief that a full season was possible, with a special stress on the need for a unified response across all of college football.
As part of Duke University's cautious COVID-19 response, the Blue Devils were the last Power Five football team to return to campus, doing so July 12. This return was not without some early hardship, however—25 players tested positive for COVID-19 within the initial three-week period. Luckily, all were cases with no or mild symptoms, with the team never having to pause any activities.
Just a few weeks after that announcement, though, the Big Ten and Pac-12 decided to postpone their fall seasons in a break from the other Power Five conferences, ending Cutcliffe’s hope for a unified initial response across college football. Nevertheless, he remained adamant that a full 2020 season was still possible for the Blue Devils.
And Sept. 12, Duke finally began its unlikely season on the road against Notre Dame. While the Blue Devils ended up on the losing end in South Bend, Ind., en route to a disappointing 2-9 campaign, perhaps the greatest victory of all was that they merely made it to the point where a football season was, in fact, possible.
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