The Fairness Of The Fifth Year

During a brief layover in Philadelphia before hopping a plane to Boston for this weekend's Final Four, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye on a TV in a nearby bar.

Bob Ley was on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, which showed images of Duke lacrosse players practicing. I couldn't hear the audio, but of course I didn't need to. All I needed was to see Duke's head coach, the jovial and smiling John Danowski, interviewing with a light in his face and a furrow in his brow.

Still suffering from the long-armed grasp of the alleged rape scandal that hit the front pages of every media outlet in the country two years ago, the Blue Devils were featured to discuss the legitimacy or fairness of the NCAA's ruling last year to allow an extra season of eligibility in response to the truncated 2006 season.

Virginia's head coach Dom Starsia has complained about the NCAA's ruling as often and as loudly as he can since the decision was announced. And in response, I’ll offer a prediction.

If Duke does win it all, Starsia will act just like that annoying friend of yours who makes excuses whenever he loses in pickup basketball: “Well, of course they won. They had an unfair advantage.” But you didn't see him turn away Peter Lamade, one of the “super-seniors” awarded an extra year when he transferred to Virginia, and you won't see Lamade sitting on the bench this weekend, and you certainly won't hear any apologies for reaping the benefits of that “unfair advantage” if the Cavaliers take home the title.

Perhaps I'm coming down too hard on one side (obviously, this post is more of a column than a feature, preview or game story). For another take on it, read Patrick Hite's column on, a piece that earned him a seat on Outside the Lines today to discuss this issue. Also check out the poll currently posted posed the question "What's your opinion of the NCAA decision granting Duke lacrosse players an extra year of eligibility?" Eighty-three percent voted "Prudent and compassionate" over "Hasty overreaction."

None of these players deserved what happened to them two years ago. And none of them want to win a championship unfairly, either. They didn't make the trip to Boston this weekend to stir up more controversy and grab more headlines. They're here to play lacrosse, something which was once taken from them. The fact they're here, to me, seems like a wrong that's been righted.

--by Matthew Iles


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