Coach K, and our conflicts over college athletics in a pandemic

coach k

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on the bench Tuesday night. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Coach K isn’t as stone cold lock on whether or not we should be playing college basketball right now as he is being made out to be, and that’s OK, because honestly, we’re all conflicted.

Nothing about this is easy, including the part about money reality.

“I don’t think it feels right to anybody. I mean, everyone is concerned,” Krzyzewski said last night after his Blue Devils lost at home for the second time in two weeks, this one an 83-68 beatdown by Illinois.

And, no, don’t dismiss it as, he’s only concerned because his team is 2-2.

He’s not going to have back surgery and saddle what appears to be another middling season on Pete Gaudet.

Poor Pete Gaudet.

Look at how Dean Smith did his guy, Bill Guthridge.

Left him two Final Four teams.

Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood.

Poor Pete’s career record: 16-58.

That includes two years at Army after replacing Krzyzewski that had him going 7-19 and 5-22, and then the 4-15 finish in 1994-1995 after he took over for Coach K midseason.

I’m digressing here.

Back to the story: Coach K, being like us, conflicted about where we are with college basketball.

He didn’t say it last night, that the reason games are being played now is about the money, but he did say that back in the summer, in an interview with ESPNU Radio.

“We need — and the NCAA needs — a men’s NCAA tournament,” Krzyzewski said. “If you don’t have it two years in a row, the NCAA, financially, could go in another direction.”

Which, yes, precisely.

And that another direction could very well be: extinction.

A big reason for that is, of course, the money.

College basketball is a multibillion-dollar business. The NCAA Tournament alone generates more than $1.4 billion annually for the NCAA, and as Krzyzewski noted, the NCAA has already gone one year without that $1.4 billion.

Another zero would be catastrophic, not only for the NCAA, but for schools like, well, Duke – well, at least for the athletics program at Duke.

Duke University has an $8.5 billion endowment.

If there is never another college basketball game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the education offered in the buildings surrounding it will continue without anybody blinking an eye.

But Duke Athletics …

The basketball program generates more than a third of the athletics department’s $100 million-plus budget, ranking fourth on the 2020 Forbes list of most valuable college basketball programs.

The P/L used by Forbes puts spending on the men’s basketball program at Duke at $19.8 million a year.

Just less than half of that goes … where, do you think?

Coach K is the highest-paid coach in college basketball, according to The Street, with a salary of $8.98 million a year.

(Virginia’s Tony Bennett ranks 20th on that list, at $3.025 million per year.)

A number of college coaches, including Coach K, have taken voluntary pay cuts in light of the strains from the COVID-19 public health response scuttling the 2020 NCAA Tournament in the spring and putting severe curbs on fan attendance at football games this fall and now basketball games being played in the winter.

Admirable there, but largely symbolic, in the grand scheme of things.

The primary reason colleges would go broke if college athletics as we know them would cease to be would be the obligations to overpaid (for the money they bring in, relative to the market) coaches.

Yes, there’s value in all those palaces that the games are played in, but you can amortize that.

Some are putting words in Coach K’s mouth to the effect that he’s decrying the cynical decision to play games in the latter stages of the pandemic just to keep the money train steaming down the tracks.

I didn’t see or hear him go that far.

He’s still cashing the checks, after all.

Story by Chris Graham


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