Probe of Simmons only cloud in sunny lacrosse weekend

Bill Tanton

June 01, 1993|By Bill Tanton

COLLEGE PARK -- What a lacrosse game! What a Final Four! What a season!

Syracuse won the NCAA Division I championship here yesterday in highly dramatic fashion.

The Orange and North Carolina were tied, 12-12, with time running out in regulation when Syracuse attackman Matt Riter came open -- wide open -- in front of the Carolina goal.

"I saw Charley Lockwood pick the ball up," Riter explained afterward, "and I shot for the seam. There was no one else around and I took the pass and shot to the goalie's [Gary Lehrman's] weak side and that was it."

That was it, all right.

With eight seconds left, Riter scored the goal that brought the Orange its fifth championship since the NCAA set up the tournament format in 1971. The others were won in 1983, 1988, 1989 and 1990.

This one was a great game played by great players before a great crowd of 20,117. Either team could have won. Both had reason to be proud.

In the end, the man in the spotlight was Roy Simmons Jr., in his 23rd -- and possibly final -- year as Syracuse's coach.

Before Roy Jr. assumed command, his father, Roy Sr., coached the team for 40 years. Roy Jr. played for his father in the late '50s. The Simmonses and Syracuse lacrosse are inextricably woven. The game is their lives.

Syracuse has been accused by a former player, Jerry DeLorenzo, of having violated NCAA rules when Jerry D. was on the Orange team four years ago. The charges are being investigated by the NCAA.

Simmons should have been jubilant after winning this one with what he calls a "generic" team -- no Gait twins, no Canadians, no Native Americans. Just typical Syracuse lacrosse players, fast, rugged and athletic.

Minutes after winning the title, Roy Jr. was happy but reserved. He would not allow himself to shake his fist in the air or hug his players. In the back of his mind was the matter of the charges against him and his program -- against his very being, really.

"I personally don't think there was any wrongdoing," Roy Jr. said.

"Will you be back next year?" he was asked.

"I don't think that's my call," he said, the sadness evident in his eyes. "I think in another month or so it'll all be decided. But there's still fire in me."

It can only be interpreted that Simmons wants to come back, and will come back, if he and his program survive the investigation. If school officials decide the findings against him are too severe, the Roy Simmons era will be over -- and that is the only era there has ever been in Syracuse lacrosse.

One of the charges is that Simmons' wife, Nancy, co-signed a loan for an auto for Paul Gait. If that had happened at UNLV, people would have said, "How about that coach putting his wife up to that?" But Syracuse is no UNLV, and Roy Simmons is no Runnin' Rebel.

A good lawyer could convince any arbiter that Nancy Simmons is not a representative of the university and therefore not bound by NCAA rules. As Paul Gait said to me over the weekend: "It's not as if she's even a member of a booster group or anything."

But all this will be decided in due time.

A year ago, Trenton State won the NCAA Division III women's lacrosse championship, beating William Smith in the finals.

Later, it was discovered that Trenton State's best player was not even enrolled in school. The school was stripped of the title.

It was not, subsequently, awarded to William Smith. It was left open.

It would be a shame if this year's men's Division I championship were left open. Syracuse earned it on the field. North Carolina played well enough to deserve a title. What a letdown it would be if the record book were to say forever:

Division I Men's Lacrosse, 1993: No champion.

Trenton State, by the way, came back this year and won the division title. All its players were enrolled.

"We're going to take the trophy home and hope we can keep it," Simmons said wistfully before departing Byrd Stadium.

Simmons, understandably, does not like discussing this subject. This, he has said, is "a personal matter." His players, in their moment of triumph, didn't want to discuss it either.

"It's a dirty subject," said Riter. "We don't like to talk about it. That's all behind us anyway."

Riter and the rest of the Orange players hope it's all behind them, but, in truth, the cloud remains until it is cleared up.

"I hate to see this in lacrosse," Maryland coach Dick Edell said recently. "It makes our game look like the other sports -- and we're not like them."

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