The Duke women's basketball team announced on Dec. 25 that it was canceling the rest of its 2020-21 season because of COVID-19 concerns. But questions remain about how the program made that decision and what's next for it and its players, especially since neither first-year coach Kara Lawson nor anyone from the athletic department has publicly addressed the decision.
The Blue Devils are the only Power 5 team in men's or women's basketball to end their season early. All Ivy League schools and some smaller conference programs opted to not have basketball seasons at all.
The Duke women, who have played in 23 of the past 25 NCAA tournaments, finish the season at 3-1. Having lost top players Haley Gorecki and Leaonna Odom from the 2019-20 team, Duke's expectations for this season were not high. Still, there was excitement about a new coach and era starting in Durham, North Carolina.
What went into Duke's decision, and how much impact will it have on other teams? Here is what we know now.
What has Duke said since canceling its season?
The only public comment from Duke came in a news release Friday from the school's chief communications officer, Michael Schoenfeld, who said the choice was made by the players.
"We support their decision, as we have supported the choices made by all student-athletes at Duke during this unprecedented time," Schoenfeld said. "Duke will maintain our current schedule of competition in other sports and will continue to observe our rigorous health and safety protocols, which include daily testing for all student-athletes and are based on guidance from leading medical experts."
Will Duke's men's basketball team continue to play?
The Duke men have not played since Dec. 16 and the Blue Devils' scheduled game against Pittsburgh on Tuesday was postponed because of a positive COVID-19 test within the Panthers' program -- unrelated to the women's team's decision.
The Duke men are next scheduled to play at Florida State on Saturday.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has been among the most outspoken coaches in college basketball about the need for caution in attempting to play during the pandemic. Krzyzewski called upon college basketball leadership to consider a pause on Dec. 8 and the Blue Devils subsequently canceled the remainder of their nonconference season.
"People are saying the next six weeks are going to be the worst," Krzyzewski said. "To me, it's already pretty bad. On the other side of it, there are these vaccines that are coming out. By the end of the month, 20 million vaccine shots will be given. By the end of January or in February, another 100 million. Should we not reassess that? See just what would be best?"
What are the Duke women saying about the decision?
Duke hasn't granted interview requests with players, but senior Jade Williams has made multiple posts on Twitter since the Blue Devils canceled the remainder of the season.
"Our health and safety is our #1 priority," Williams wrote when posting Duke's announcement on Dec. 25.
The next day, she tweeted, "There are more than enough resources to make sure all competing teams are getting tested EVERYDAY. If you want entertainment, then make the playing fields, courts, etc safe!"
I'm amazed at people. To clarify.. we together as a team, decided to opt out of our season. We are in a pandemic STILL because not enough people are taking it serious. Basketball players are not just entertainment. There shouldn't be casual attitudes about COVID now a year in.— j (@jadeswilliams25) December 27, 2020
Later on Dec. 26, Williams reiterated it was the Duke players' decision to cancel the season.
"I'm amazed at people," she said in a Twitter post. "To clarify.. we together as a team, decided to opt out of our season. We are in a pandemic STILL because not enough people are taking it serious. Basketball players are not just entertainment. There shouldn't be casual attitudes about COVID now a year in."
Williams' emphasis on daily testing suggests that was a primary concern of the Duke players, who were tested daily. ACC protocols call for all team members to be tested three times each week.
A report Monday in the Raleigh News & Observer said the Blue Devils had requested that all of their opponents also be tested daily, and that when that was not granted by the ACC, the players decided they wouldn't play again this season.
Duke has not confirmed to ESPN that this request was made, and neither has the ACC.
The league office told ESPN on Tuesday, "The conference respects Duke women's basketball's decision, just as we have in other sports." (Such as Boston College's men's soccer team opting out of the ACC fall season to compete in the spring.)
What happened before the cancellation?
On Dec. 9, a day after Krzyzewski questioned whether college basketball should continue during a pandemic, the Duke women lost to Louisville 73-49 in Durham.
After the game, Lawson said, "I don't think we should be playing right now. That's my opinion on it."
Louisville went on a pause on Dec. 11 because of COVID-19 positive tests. The Cardinals are back in action but still have not played since Dec. 9.
Duke's Dec. 12 game against Miami was postponed because of contact tracing, since the Blue Devils had played Louisville three days earlier. Then on Dec. 16, Duke paused women's basketball-related activities because of positive tests in the program.
What was Louisville's situation before the Duke game?
Cardinals coach Jeff Walz said his program has stringently followed all ACC protocols from the league's medical advisory group.
The ACC mandates all team members, and those in close contact with them, be tested three times each week on non-consecutive days. One molecular (polymerase chain reaction, or "PCR") test must be administered within three days of the first competition of the week. Before traveling to a game, teams must have results from tests that were performed within a three-day period before the competition. Tests also have to be administered within 48 hours of the conclusion of games; these might be either PCR or antigen tests.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PCR tests are considered the "gold standard" for clinical diagnostic detection. Walz said the Cardinals use PCR tests at least three times a week. He also said everyone in the traveling party felt fine and had tested negative before going to the Duke game.
"Not one single player of ours would have even been on that trip to Duke, let alone on the floor, if they had any symptoms," Walz said.
Louisville's positive tests occurred two days later and then the Cardinals went into a pause.
"We have continued to follow all protocols," Walz said. "Now we're back up and running."
Will Duke continue to practice?
According to the NCAA, the Blue Devils can keep practicing even though they are not playing games. They are limited to 20 hours per week, like all other programs.
When asked if the Blue Devils planned to practice regularly, a Duke spokesperson said they were "still working out details."
Will Duke's three seniors and one grad student return next season?
With the NCAA's blanket waiver to allow student-athletes who compete this season an extra year of eligibility, Duke seniors Williams, Jayda Adams and Mikayla Boykin and graduate student Sara Anastasieska could choose to come back.
Duke has not released information on any of the players' plans.
Which other Division I teams or leagues have canceled their seasons?
The SMU women, who started 0-6, announced on Tuesday they were canceling the rest of their season. The school, which competes in the American Athletic Conference, released a statement saying that the players felt precautions were taken to keep them safe, but that "the totality of the circumstances was resulting in an in-season experience that they did not wish to prolong."
The Chicago State men, who opened 0-9, announced on Dec. 23 that they were suspending the rest of their season "to focus on the health, safety, and academic pursuits of the Men's Basketball student-athletes."
The Ivy League men and women, Bethune-Cookman and Maryland-Eastern Shore men and women, and Florida A&M women canceled their seasons from the start. The Patriot League men's and women's teams, other than Army and Navy, are playing only conference games and haven't started. Army and Navy have played some nonconference games.
Other programs that haven't started but intend to play conference games are Alabama State's men and women, Merrimack's men and women, Fordham's men and Siena's men.
What have other coaches' reactions been?
UConn's Geno Auriemma, whose program was on a pause to start the season, said of Duke's decision, "You never know the whole story. Somebody asked me, 'Do you think more programs will do that?' Who knows? Obviously very surprising, but unexplainable? No, totally explainable."
Tennessee's Kellie Harper, whose Lady Vols went on pause Tuesday after a positive test in their program, had a game at Texas canceled this season after the team was already in Austin.
"It's just been a lot; I think it wears on you," Harper said of dealing with this season's uncertainty. "It's draining when you don't know what's next. The way we've handled this is we'll make a plan for the week, and then we'll take it day by day. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow."
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said his players have told him they really want to play.
"I think it would hurt them more mentally by not playing," Blair said. "So we have to find a way, as long as it does not endanger the health and safety of our student-athletes."