The women’s basketball program at Duke University will end its season early, the team announced Friday, because of mounting coronavirus concerns. It’s the first Power Five basketball team to start and stop its season because of the pandemic.
“The student-athletes on the Duke women’s basketball team have made the difficult decision to conclude their current season due to safety concerns,” Michael Schoenfeld, the chief communications officer for the school in Durham, N.C., said in the announcement.
All other Duke sports were expected to continue as usual, following recommend safety protocols, he added.
The women’s team, which had a 3-1 record, had initially suspended operations on Dec. 16 after two members of its traveling party tested positive for the virus, requiring contact tracing. The Blue Devils consequently postponed games against North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina Wilmington; the program had already postponed a game against the University of Miami because of contact tracing concerns. It was scheduled to play Louisville next week.
Kara Lawson, Duke’s first-year head coach, had said after a game against Louisville this month that she did not think the team should be playing during the pandemic. “That’s my opinion on it,” she said.
Other conferences and sports have postponed games or suspended seasons during the pandemic. College football completed the regular season despite several postponements, cancellations and personnel switches. The Ivy League canceled its winter sports and delayed its spring seasons in November. And a New York Times analysis published in early December showed that at least 6,600 college athletes, coaches and other personnel had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Duke’s announcement comes as coronavirus cases climb throughout the United States; in North Carolina, there has been a steady daily average of over 5,500 new cases per day for the past few weeks, according to a New York Times database.
The 2021 Division I women’s basketball tournament is expected to tip off in March in one region to limit travel and hopefully mitigate the virus’ spread, with the N.C.A.A. eyeing San Antonio and the surrounding area. The men’s Division I tournament is also expected to be held in one region this spring, with the N.C.A.A. announcing in November that it was talking with officials in Indianapolis.
The 2020 men’s and women’s tournaments were among the first major sporting events in the United States to be canceled as the pandemic worsened last March.