Duke situation painful for all

Possible ACC ramifications seen minor part of spillover from `nightmare' incident

College Lacrosse

March 31, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

Navy men's lacrosse coach Richie Meade is doing his best to keep his sixth-ranked Midshipmen trained on the task at hand - beating No. 5 Georgetown tomorrow and starting to build momentum as the NCAA tournament draws closer.

Dave Pietramala, the men's lacrosse coach at Johns Hopkins, wants the 3-3 Blue Jays concentrating on defeating North Carolina tomorrow, then using that as a spark to get a winning streak going.

But both coaches acknowledge that focusing solely on strategy and matchups and other nuts and bolts of the game has been impossible during such a terrible week for the sport in general, and for Duke in particular.

When Duke announced Tuesday night it had suspended its season indefinitely while an investigation continues into an alleged sexual assault at an off-campus party attended by scores of its men's lacrosse players, the school already was immersed in a firestorm of controversy.

The story has drawn prominent coverage by television networks. Newspaper reporters from all over the East Coast descended on Durham, N.C.

The ripple effect on the game is being felt in various ways. On the field, the uncertainty surrounding the Blue Devils' future in 2006 could significantly affect the makeup of the NCAA tournament and the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, which will be played at M&T Bank Stadium on April 28 and 30.

Off the field, the alleged incident - an African-American exotic dancer has accused three white men of pulling her into a bathroom and sexually assaulting her at a house rented by lacrosse players - has heaped public-perception problems upon the sport.

"It's a black cloud right now. You don't want it to be a distraction, but it's something you have to talk about," said Pietramala, who first addressed the Duke incident with his team after it had absorbed a 12-6 beating at Virginia on Saturday.

"Do you think that's what we wanted to talk about in our locker room after the Virginia game? It's a teaching moment you can't let pass. The fact that people are talking about our sport and the kids who play [in negative terms] is not a good thing. We need to be focused on what we're here for, and how we've got to do things the right way. You can't just not discuss it."

"For everyone that coaches in college athletics, this is your worst nightmare," Meade added. "We've addressed it with our team. Playing a game is not as important as teaching a lesson.

"I'm a father of three daughters, and the things that are alleged to have happened are appalling to me. Something [bad] has happened at one of the greatest institutions in America. Right now, [Duke] is an easy target. On many levels, this is a sad thing for everybody."

It remains to be seen whether the Blue Devils will fold their season and set in motion further repercussions for the sport. Recently scheduled dates with Georgetown and Mount St. Mary's, which Duke originally tried to forfeit, have been declared "no contest" games by the NCAA, meaning there is no winner or loser.

Tomorrow's scheduled game at Ohio State is off. The following Saturday's Johns Hopkins-Duke game in Durham is in jeopardy.

Should Duke (6-2) decide to cancel the remainder of its season, it could throw a wrench into the postseason. For starters, a year after losing by one goal to Hopkins in the NCAA title game, a Blue Devils team picked by many to win its first national championship in 2006 would be out of the picture, creating an at-large spot for another school in the national tournament.

Then there is the ACC tournament, which would be reduced to a three-team affair among Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. The top-seeded team probably would have a bye on Friday, April 28, and on Sunday would play the winner of Friday's game between the lower seeds for the conference title.

"Not having a championship is the furthest thing from our mind. That's not an option that's even a consideration," said Davis Whitfield, the ACC's assistant commissioner for championships. "Duke hasn't given up on their season, pending the completion of the police investigation. It's a little too early to tell what's going to happen."

Jon Hind, the chairman of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament selection committee, expressed the same sentiment when asked how a series of "no contest" games would affect certain team records and the committee's ability to fill out the tournament's 16-team bracket.

"At this point, we've had absolutely no committee discussion about it. We won't be pro-active with this. We'll be reactive," Hind said. "We feel it would be ill-advised to worry about the playoffs when more important things are going on right now."

Meade agreed.

"There are things much more important than who's in the NCAA tournament, and this is one of them," he said. "The little world we live in is not as important as the greater society. There are some things that just stop it. This is one of them."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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