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What happened to fighting the status quo?

A little more than a year ago, I received an e-mail from a friend who jokingly asked what Joe Alleva had on Richard Brodhead that has kept the Director of Athletics at Duke.

The tone of the message was certainly rife with hyperbole and sarcasm. But the thought behind it-that without such an off-the-wall explanation, Alleva's continued employment by Brodhead and his administration would not make sense-was one shared by a large contingent of the Duke community.

This was, of course, during the summer of 2006, when the Duke lacrosse case was still a national controversy, and this school's vaunted athletic department was under intense scrutiny. Despite the fact that we would learn over the course of the next year that the charges were false and the accused players were themselves victims, last summer was undoubtedly a low point for Duke Athletics.

Let's review for a second what we knew about Alleva then. After being appointed AD by Nan Keohane in 1998, Alleva guided Duke Athletics to some of its best achievements, including its highest-ever finish in the Director's Cup and a continued record of outstanding academic achievement. Alleva raised $130 million during Keohane's Campaign for Duke-twice the original goal of $65 million-which bolstered Duke's facilities and helped to endow more of the school's athletics scholarships. All the while, most of Duke's teams flourished in competition.

Not everything was so pretty, however. In 2005, the department was accused of overlooking steroids and coaching abuse in the baseball program. Though the report may have been overblown, it was clear that Alleva had allowed the program to languish under the leadership of a man who Alleva had hired and watched coach his two sons.

In 2006, the charges against members of the lacrosse team were Mike Nifong's fault, not Alleva's or Brodhead's, but Alleva's public comments failed to mitigate the public relations disaster and at times even added to it. Take for example when he said it was just "boys being boys," which as it turns out wasn't so wrong, but at the time was ill-advised and added fuel to the growing fire.

When the Coleman Report- one of the most in-depth investigations into the lacrosse culture at Duke-was released in May of last year, it largely exonerated former head coach Mike Pressler and passed some of the blame onto Alleva for overlooking a pattern of behavioral issues.

Later in the summer of 2006, Alleva and one of his sons were involved in a boating accident. At the time, police said alcohol was involved in the crash, and the details of the incident still seem murky at best.

Despite the progress the department had seen in eight years under Alleva, that incident seemed to be the icing on the cake-the perfect opportunity to change leadership. Students, student-athletes, administrators and others concerned with Duke Athletics whispered that it was time for Alleva to go.

Fast-forward a year: This summer, with only one year left on his second five-year contract, Alleva was up for review. Adding onto the list of problems that existed the year before was the very public departure of Gail Goestenkors (which was caused at least in part by comments Alleva made) and the continued problems with the football program (which has won exactly 12 games in eight years under the two coaches Alleva hired).

Once again, it looked like an opportunity to seek new leadership, and the whispers from the year before turned into expectations that Alleva would not be getting the chance to hire a third football coach-something that could happen as soon as this December. But when the committee reported back, Brodhead shocked almost everyone when he handed Alleva a five-year extension and lauded him for being "unwaveringly loyal" to Duke.

Why did this happen? One theory is that Coach K put his foot down, like some have suggested he did with Keohane to get Alleva the job in the first place. But given Krzyzewski's very public comments in defense of Pressler and his accusations directed at the administration's failure to support the lacrosse players during the whole ordeal, it would not seem to make sense that Coach K played a large role this time around.

What was it then? Was it the fact that Alleva's biggest donor, Harold Yoh, chaired the committee that reviewed the AD? Was it simply Brodhead's wish to keep the ship steady after two years of turmoil?

It's impossible to know for sure because the committee's review of Alleva, like those of every Duke administrator, was not made public. Here's my best guess as to what the committee's report said: Joe Alleva is a nice guy with good intentions, and he's a capable leader going forward. What he's not is a visionary who can fix major problems or handle crises.

And that's exactly what Duke needs now.

It's surprising then, that the president who wrote to the community last June that he came to Duke because of its "lack of commitment to the status quo" would make a decision in rehiring Alleva reaffirming that same status quo.

In reappointing Alleva, Brodhead asked him to introduce a "strategic plan" within the next year. Such a request did not seem unusual considering Brodhead's primary response to the lacrosse incident was to form five "committees" (and then reject a number of their findings). And the athletics department's answer to the football problem was a "summit" last year-not a new coach. All of these are fancy ways of generating discussion but not action.

On the same day he reinstated the lacrosse program last summer, Brodhead also said, "The current crisis gives Duke an opportunity to 'step up' and take a leadership position on issues of broad concern in American education." Unless Alleva's strategic plan bears fruit in the near future, this bold declaration will remain an empty promise as it relates to athletics.


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