Less than a year removed from a one-goal loss in the National Championship game, the Duke men's lacrosse program is facing a precarious future.
The University is awaiting the findings of an investigation into the team's on- and off-campus behavior-due back to President Richard Brodhead and the Executive Committee of the Academic Council May 1-which will likely determine the immediate future of the program.
Decisions regarding whether the team will receive further sanctions, including the possibility of suspending the program, will hinge on the conclusions of that report, Director of Athletics Joe Alleva told The Chronicle Monday.
"The biggest obstacle will be the content of that report and the culture of lacrosse and if the President and the Board of Trustees feel like it is the right thing to continue the sport or not," Alleva said. "Assuming we have lacrosse next year and in the future, it'll definitely set it back, although I believe we'll have a tremendously strong nucleus of kids coming back."
Who that group includes, however, remains in doubt as the University has informed current players that they may explore transfer options and has released incoming recruits from their binding letters of intent, athletic department officials confirmed.
Though several current and incoming players have contacted other schools, "the junior class has unanimously decided to come back to Duke no matter what next year," Alleva said. That unit had been ranked as the nation's top recruiting class in 2003, said John Jiloty, editor in chief of Inside Lacrosse Magazine.
"These kids have extremely strong convictions about who they are," said John Danowski, the father of junior Matt Danowski and head men's lacrosse coach at Hofstra University. "They love the University, they love each other and they want to finish what they started."
Players who are considering leaving the program may transfer once without sitting out a season, according to NCAA rules. The ACC requires a one-season penalty for transferring within conference.
Since head coach Mike Pressler resigned April 5, assistant coaches Jon Lantzy and Kevin Cassese along with Chris Kennedy, senior associate director of athletics, have been meeting with lacrosse team members regularly even though no organized team activities have been taking place. They have also maintained contact with the seven high school seniors who had signed to play for Duke next season.
Coaches and administrators from peer institutions have confirmed that there are several Duke players and recruits seeking to transfer or sign elsewhere. Syracuse head coach John Desko told the Syracuse Post Standard last week that Zack Greer-a Duke sophomore who led the country with 57 goals last season-had expressed interest in transferring to the Orange.
Syracuse Director of Athletics Daryl Gross said his school would not actively pursue Duke players or recruits, but individuals who express interest in the school would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
"We don't want to raid Duke, they're entitled to their players," Gross said. "This is far bigger than lacrosse players. We don't want to be cannibalistic to Duke's program."
Johns Hopkins Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations and Marketing Ernie Larossa confirmed Duke players and recruits had contacted the Blue Jays to inquire about switching programs.
Larossa said per NCAA rules Johns Hopkins had not made any outward contact with these individuals, and they "have not taken any action either way."
Although the sexual assault allegations have rocked the campus and the Durham community, Duke is by no means the first school dealing with questions about the future of one of its teams.
The most well-known incident in recent years involved the Colorado football program and the ramifications of an alleged 2001 incident. Two women said they were sexually assaulted by football players-the charges were eventually dropped-and an investigation concluded that sex, alcohol and drugs had been used to entice recruits. After weathering the initial storm, head coach Gary Barnett resigned in 2005, and the athletic director and university president also left the school in the wake of the scandal.
In 1996, St. John's disbanded its varsity men's lacrosse program five years after several team members were acquitted of gang rape charges. The school restarted its program for the 2005 season and went 2-11 in its first year back.
In 2000, Vermont officials canceled the men's hockey team's season with 15 games remaining on the schedule amid allegations of hazing freshmen who had tried out for the team in the fall. Initially, players involved had received one-game suspensions and the team was placed on probabtion, but later that year an administrative investgation discovered several players had not been truthful in their original statements.
The Catamounts returned to the ice the next fall, and several anti-hazing laws have been passed in the state as a result of the incident.
In a similar fashion, Duke is hoping the lacrosse culture report will shed light on how it can improve the student-athlete experience at the University and avoid future disciplinary incidents, Alleva said.
Regardless of the commissions' findings, however, Alleva said he is confident his job is not at stake.
"I've been here for 30 years and I think people at the University know what I stand for and know what kind of a good athletic department we have," Alleva said.
Among the initiatives that are expected to come from the report are increased educational programming about drugs, alcohol and women's issues as well as a written student-athlete code of conduct. In addition, Alleva said communication between the Athletic Department and the Office of Student Affairs will have to improve.
"It's cast a cloud over the Athletic Department, but I don't think it has tarnished our reputation," Alleva said. "We have outstanding coaches and outstanding student-athletes, and we have this great University. It has given us a black eye for right now but we'll come back from this stronger."
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