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Column: Listen to what Coach K has to say

Duke cancelled the remainder of its nonconference slate Thursday, two days after Coach K made national headlines about playing during a pandemic.
Duke cancelled the remainder of its nonconference slate Thursday, two days after Coach K made national headlines about playing during a pandemic.

The timing was not ideal.

Fresh off of a 15-point loss to Illinois Tuesday night, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski received a question regarding the uncertainty surrounding college basketball due to the current pandemic. He responded with a five-minute emotional monologue, questioning whether or not it is right to be playing college basketball during this time.

Yet, instead of actually engaging with what Krzyzewski said, many took this opportunity to clown him and his Blue Devils. And it wasn’t just the usual crowd of Twitter trolls and incendiary talking heads taking shots at Krzyzewski. Instead, prominent figures like Alabama head coach Nate Oats got in on the fun.

“Do you think if Coach K hadn’t lost the two nonconference games at home he’d still be saying that?,” Oats said with a smirk Thursday.

For what it’s worth, Oats has never led a team to the Sweet 16, something Krzyzewski has done 25 times in his illustrious career.

I know it has been a welcome distraction for all of us basketball nuts to have college basketball back in our lives after an eight-month hiatus, but let’s be real—the 2020-21 season has been an absolute disaster so far. There have been countless games cancelled, programs put on pause and players and coaches that tested positive for COVID-19. 

Simply put, this is by no means college basketball that we all fell in love with in prior seasons.

So, let’s do what Oats and others refused to do and actually hear what Krzyzewski had to say Tuesday. Here were his main points:

  1. The NCAA has offered little guidance: We all know that there are major problems with college athletics’ power structure, but the NCAA’s lack of leadership and guidance during this pandemic are disappointing even by its standards. As Krzyzewski aptly put it Tuesday, “I’m not sure who leads college basketball.” Neither are any of us, Coach K.
  2. College basketball didn’t respond to concerning COVID-19 numbers nationally: The NCAA Division I Council announced Sept. 16 that the college basketball season would begin Nov. 25. On Sept. 16, there were 39,268 new COVID-19 cases in the U.S.; on Nov. 25, there were 180,536 new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Despite the rapidly shifting COVID-19 realities over that two-month span, college basketball stuck to its plan, beginning the season Nov. 25. As Krzyzewski puts it, the NCAA has stuck by its mentality of trying to “get as many games in as possible,” whether or not that is the smart thing to do.
  3. Players’ mental and physical health needs to be considered: 2020 has been as difficult a year physically and emotionally as ever. Aside from the obvious concern about contracting the virus, college basketball players have also had to deal with the mental toll of isolation. Duke players have been isolating at the Washington Duke hotel on campus since the beginning of August, meaning many Blue Devils have not seen their families since the summer. Should college basketball players really be put in a situation where they have no choice but to stay away from their loved ones for months on end?

On Thursday night, Krzyzewski continued to make news, as he announced that Duke would forgo the remainder of its nonconference slate in order to allow players to return home and see their families for the holidays, something especially important this season. Of course, this seemingly noble decision comes with some backlash as well, since players will presumably be flying across the country to return to their respective homes.

All of this is critical to consider for everybody involved with the sport. I completely understand that this is a perfect time to make fun of Krzyzewski, who is fresh off two decisive losses. But he is absolutely right about evaluating just what we are doing playing games right now. 

Nate Oats and other important college basketball figures, please take a break from the low-hanging fruit and actually listen to what Coach K has to say. It’s time to have a serious discussion that we need to stop avoiding.

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