Problem goes far deeper than Duke

April 05, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

Aweek ago, when people were taking turns bashing Duke University and the sport of lacrosse over assault and rape accusations, they overlooked something. The problems at Duke aren't just a lacrosse issue, but a college sports issue.

And instead of being patient and waiting for the judicial process to run its due course, everyone was in a rush to judgment. That's the way our society operates, especially the media. We overhype everything.

Geraldo Rivera from Fox was on the Duke campus, and so was CBS News. There were boycotts and vigils. Duke lacrosse players were threatened, and so were the children of the lacrosse coach. Words from an ambitious prosecutor made a situation with racial tension even more stressful.

And a lot of people kept pointing fingers at lacrosse and its blueblood roots.

Please, no more.

No one is trying to trivialize the situation because the charges are extremely serious and people were hurt, but what apparently happened at Duke could happen on any campus in America, and it could have easily involved football, basketball or baseball players.

This so-called "culture" that is prevalent for Duke lacrosse players has been around college athletics for decades. Will it change? No. Not until colleges stop separating the athletes from the regular students in housing, training facilities and dining halls, and providing them with special counselors and advisers.

Athletic teams are made to feel special because they bring in money and build prestige. Don't you think the Florida's men's basketball players will now be treated differently than average students? Won't the "culture" change now on the University of Maryland's women's basketball program? That's just the way the system is set up.

The NCAA, school administrators and coaches promote the "culture" just as much as the players, and it also works in reverse.

It has been reported that not all of the Duke players were involved in the alleged incident, but the season has been suspended for the entire team. School administrators panicked. They caved in to the pressure and were concerned about image. Everyone associated with this team has been presumed guilty until proved innocent.

That's part of the college sports culture, as well.

No. 1 Virginia looks unbeatable. On successive weekends, the Cavaliers have beaten Hopkins and Maryland - and made it look easy. Virginia has good athletes, but it also has players with great skills. Virginia passes the ball as well as any team in the country.

All of the Cavaliers' defensemen who play regularly have good stick work, including junior Ricky Smith and senior Michael Culver, and even freshman Matt Kelly.

No team can match their speed. The Cavaliers swallow up most ground balls. They have enough speed on defense to push out on most offenses, but still enough quickness to help out on slides or back each other up. They're as dominant as Hopkins was last year, but in a different way.

Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala was into slow death. He would tear teams apart slowly and methodically. Virginia is just downright relentless.

To beat Virginia will take a Herculean effort. It's probably going to take a team with a lot of resolve, one that probably has lost to the Cavaliers early in the season. That team will also have to have outstanding goalkeeping, and a coach who is a brilliant strategist. If you had to bet on one team that could pull it off, it would be Hopkins.

Here's another bet for you: Duke coach Mike Pressler will probably get his walking papers, or be forced to resign.

If North Carolina cared half as much about lacrosse as it does about basketball, John Haus would no longer be the head coach.

The Tar Heels showed improvement in four of his first six seasons as they went 6-6, 8-5, 7-6 and 10-5. But last year North Carolina dropped to 5-8 with a senior-dominated team, and is currently 2-8, having lost eight in a row. There is no excuse for a Carolina team to perform this poorly.

Your heart goes out to the parents of Matthew Stoffel, the former Hopkins lacrosse player who died in December in a crash on the Jones Fall Expressway in Baltimore.

His best friend, Gregory Raymond, was driving and will be sentenced in May for up to a year in jail after pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated. Because of the request of Stoffel's parents, prosecutors did not pursue more serious charges. Raymond and Stoffel, both former Hopkins players, were the best of friends. Stoffel's parents treated him as if he were another son.

There have been numerous times when I have tried to put myself in the Stoffels' situation over the past couple of weeks after reading the story, and each time I come away with a deeper appreciation of them. As a parent, you try, but really can't imagine their pain. I've never met the Stoffels, but they have to be incredible people.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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