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Will Older Coaches Be Sidelined This Fall?

It’s a possibility.

North Carolina v Duke
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 13: (L-R) Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils shakes hands with head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels before their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 13, 2013 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Over at CBS, Gary Parrish raises an interesting question: should older coaches, like Coach K and Roy Williams, take the year off due to Covid-19?

Well there’s an argument for it.

Dr. Jon McCullers, who is the pediatrician-in-chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and also the associate dean at the University of TennesseeHealth Science Center College of Medicine and also an expert on virii and pandemics, thinks it won’t be safe.

Mike Krzyzewski is 74 and Roy Williams is 70 and as older coaches, as all older people, are among the most vulnerable.

And yet you know they want to lead, not least of all Coach K, who has always seen his role through military eyes. We can promise you that he doesn’t want to step away from his troops.

So what to do?

First of all, it’s not at all clear that there will be a college basketball season yet, so in that sense, it’s a bit early to worry about other stuff.

Secondly, we can barely begin to interpret the news, much less the data and research, but we know there are a lot more known facts now and a lot of questions that may be answered soon. Here’s a list of some that interest us:

  • The U.S. cases are most heavily concentrated in New York and surrounding states.
  • Previously and tragically, nursing homes were required to take Covid-19 patients.
  • From 13 to 12 of all US Covid deaths have been in nursing homes (The Guardian reports 12 while the New York Times reports 1/3).
  • In New York, the subways were only recently shut down.
  • Strikingly, some prisons have reported a high percentage of infection and a much higher percentage of asymptomatic patients than the general population.
  • Hospitals were expected to be overwhelmed, but even in New York, this has not happened.
  • The models which suggested millions dead have been steadily modified down to tens of thousands and now back up somewhat.
  • We had expected that China and some European countries with heavy smoking rates would see smokers cut down by the tens of thousands. Yet for some reason, smokers don’t seem to struggle nearly as much with Covid-19.
  • What about heavily polluted areas? That’s still unclear but it’s hard to imagine that a city like Wuhan (or Beijing or Tehran) would not have major issues with pollution when there is a dangerous respiratory virus in circulation. We haven't seen any specific information about that yet. It seems like it should be a contributing factor.
  • We also thought that, given the high rates of homelessness, the scandalous lack of public sanitation and presumably weakened immune systems among the homeless, that cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles would have massive and tragic outbreaks. Yet that has not happened.

To be clear, we’re not taking a position on any of this, we’re just listing it and some of it is stuff we’ve wondered about but have no earthly idea what to think. It’s entirely possible we’re wrong about some of it so we encourage you to read for yourselves and draw your own conclusions and by all means feel free to correct us.

Obviously if subways are a danger then airplanes and gymnasiums are as well. Will it be safe for older coaches?

Well clearly there is a danger. We understand this virus much better than we did a few short months ago and yet we still know very little.

What we do know is this: Duke and UNC both have cutting edge medical schools and the region produces world-class medical research. So both Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are able to make superbly informed decisions about what risks are reasonable and what risks are too much.

Both also have families at home, or at least wives, and have that to worry about as well.

The upshot? Like everyone else, we’re putting our faith in science and research and are very happy to be living in a region that puts a priority on both.