NCAA grants lacrosse players extra year of eligibility

The NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff Wednesday granted Duke's season-of-competition waiver request filed last week for 33 players from the 2005-2006 men's lacrosse team.

The conditions of the waiver dictate that non-seniors from last year's team will be provided with a fifth year of eligibility to play lacrosse.

Last season's seniors are excluded from the ruling because NCAA rules dictate that student-athletes have five years to complete their four seasons of eligibility, and that window has expired. Additionally, many of those seniors have played professionally since graduation.

"These individuals were involved in an unusual circumstance that we believe warrants providing them the opportunity to complete their four years of competition," Jennifer Strawley, NCAA director of student-athlete reinstatement and membership services, said in a press release.

Senior Associate Director of Athletics Chris Kennedy, who played a large role in constructing the appeal to the NCAA, said the biggest challenge for Duke was the lack of precedent for its case.

Kennedy said the University's argument was built upon an analogy to teams affected in the fall of 2005 as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

"There was a women's soccer team whose season was never cancelled, but it was disrupted and they played 12 out of 20 games. There was a swimming team that competed in 9 out of their 20 scheduled games and they both got their seasons back," Kennedy said. "The key thing we had to demonstrate to the NCAA was that the season was cancelled for reasons that were beyond our institution's control."

Last spring, when the Department of Athletics first inquired about petitioning for an extra year of eligibility for last season's seniors, the NCAA believed that the team had held the party and the cancellation of the season was in the control of the players, Kennedy said.

"We really couldn't make this argument until some of the prosecutorial irregularities were revealed and until the charges were dropped and the boys were declared innocent," Kennedy said.

The NCAA's ruling not only affects the sophomores, juniors and seniors of the 2006-2007 Blue Devil team, but also has the potential to greatly alter the recruiting for the next three years if current players exercise their rights to play an additional season.

"There are going to have to be some decisions made fairly quickly," Kennedy said. "Although, nothing says this eligibility has to be used at Duke."

Recently graduated senior Tony McDevitt said the lacrosse players first found out about the NCAA's decision via a text message sent by head coach John Danowski Wednesday morning.

The team had learned that Kennedy had begun the petition process two months ago, and then Kennedy confirmed that to the team about a month ago, the senior said.

McDevitt also said the difficult nature of the decision this year's senior class, in particular, must make in the near future.

"I think everybody has a real interest," McDevitt said. "It's just whether it'll be plausible or not."

McDevitt, who has a job with Merill Lynch in New York City already lined up for the fall, said that part of most players' choices is contingent upon the understanding of their new employers and whether, logistically, a return is in their best interests.

"Everyone just wants to make the right decision-and it's not an easy one," he said. "You have to weigh your options, but the two biggest things are that you are getting this opportunity to, one, further your education at Duke, and, two, to play lacrosse again with all your best friends.

"That's an opportunity that doesn't come around everyday, and that is something that I am sure people will consider."

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