Old college try: Beat those charges

JOHN EISENBERG

June 01, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

COLLEGE PARK -- The Division I lacrosse final, played yesterday at Byrd Stadium, offered a pretty complete nutshell of the collegiate sports experience. There was a big crowd. A superb game. A national championship won in the final seconds. And at the end, a winning coach who said, "I hope we get to keep the trophy."

Meaning he hopes the NCAA doesn't rip it out of their hands.

And you thought you were safe down there in the smaller, supposedly cleaner sports, beneath the well-known sleazy surface of big-time football and basketball. Wrong, loan-application breath.

The truth is, you can be walking along anywhere on the college landscape and run headlong into the familiar brew of investigations, sanctions and innuendo. How low does it go? No one knows for sure, but would it surprise you to hear that some hotshot fencer was being paid to epee? Is there anything surprising left? Maybe a scandal at the Division III sow judging championships?

Anyway, it made for two endings to yesterday's elegant afternoon of lacrosse. The first was a beauty, a goal by Syracuse's Matt Riter with eight seconds left, giving the Orangemen a 13-12 win over North Carolina. Games don't get much better. But then there was the second ending: Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr. explaining what it all meant.

"It feels great to win. It's been a bumpy year for us," he said. "My life has been very unsettled. But we used it as a stepping- stone."

An ugly ending if ever there was one. Simmons was referring to an investigation of his program being conducted by the school, made necessary by allegations of wrongdoing published in a Syracuse newspaper. It's the second recent brouhaha for Simmons' program, which was sanctioned by the NCAA after getting caught giving out too many scholarships.

The latest allegations include Simmons' wife co-signing a car loan for one player and another player charging that he was once given $40. You can't help but laugh: As wrongdoing, those would be baby steps for any basketball coach worth his slush fund and sugar daddies. As Simmons said last week, "It's not like I'm Jim Boeheim." (Like to be a fly on the wall at the next Syracuse coaches' staff meeting?)

In any event, it's too soon to tell if these latest allegations could wind up meriting such a severe punishment as the loss of a national championship. The NCAA isn't even involved yet, and, as Simmons said, the allegations are several years old and "totally unrelated" to this team.

"I personally don't think there's any wrongdoing at all," Simmons said. "But it's not a court of law, it's the NCAA."

And the NCAA's idea of justice can get weird on you in a hurry.

"You never know," Simmons said. "There was a [recent] situation at Tulsa where the women's golfers lost their title, got everything taken away from them, because the track team got in trouble. I think this one is ours. But they can take 'em away."

A school can take away a coach's job, too. Simmons brought up that possibility yesterday.

"It's probably not my call," he said, a stunning turn for a coach who has won five national titles since 1983.

The only certainty at this point is that there are plenty of lacrosseniks happy to see Simmons squirm, particularly among the sport's old guard here in town. Simmons has never played by their rules, eschewing Maryland players for New Yorkers and advancing a wild, fast-break style that has long turned conventional stomachs.

It's mostly just jealousy, of course. Syracuse has supplanted Johns Hopkins as the preeminent franchise in lacrosse, and such things never go down easily. In 1990, Simmons told The Sun's Mike Preston last week, someone was forging Simmons' name to incendiary letters being sent to Syracuse professors. Simmons said he felt compelled to hire a bodyguard.

There is no shortage of such talk in a sport that is consistently and impressively catty, with everyone whispering about everyone else's entrance standards and various hush-hushables. It's no different from the big-time sports except that it's done purely for ego, not money.

The bottom line in this case is that lacrosse season will last longer than usual. Syracuse has won the title, but there's still another win to score. Probation, not the loss of a championship, is the more likely ending if the verdict is guilty. But there are no guarantees.

"We're going to take the trophy home and put it in the case by the others," Simmons said. "These kids worked incredibly hard for it. I hope it gets to stay there."

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