Duke mess keeps growing, with everyone paying price

The Kickoff

April 13, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

The investigation into the alleged rape by several Duke University lacrosse players is turning into a big mess, a carousel that seemingly will never stop turning. After defense lawyers said Monday that DNA tests proved a stripper was not raped at a team party in mid-March, what is next?

No one seems to know where this will end.

Will the three players be found guilty or innocent? Will the program be suspended for several years? Which school will receive the most Duke transfers? What will happen to the Atlantic Coast Conference?

There are numerous questions and rumors circulating - many more than if Duke officials had waited until the investigation had been completed instead of canceling the season and accepting the resignation of Blue Devils coach Mike Pressler. But they caved in to the pressure because they didn't want their image tarnished.

Every day, this story seems to take another turn. On Monday, the DNA evidence came out in favor of the players, who have said all along that they did not rape the woman. You don't need to be Perry Mason or Ben Matlock to know that's pretty strong stuff.

Yet, District Attorney Mike Nifong says he will continue to investigate the case. According to Nifong, cases are often won on eyewitness and victim testimony.

You would expect Nifong to say as much.

Like the Duke administrators who decided to cancel the season, Nifong jumped the gun on this case, which has drawn national attention because it involves a black woman allegedly raped by white men. But maybe Nifong got a little eager because he is up for re-election on May 4.

Everything seems so shaky. One day there are reports about the victim being intoxicated and photographed with lacerations on her body before she attended the party. And then there are reports about a disturbing e-mail from a player wanting to rape and skin strippers.

This incident isn't going to end soon. There are going to be lawsuits on top of lawsuits. This is Duke University, which is synonymous with money, power and prestige. Some of the players' parents are probably lawyers. According to one ACC official, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has thrown his support behind Press- ler and his former team.

Hmmm.

You think Coach K has some clout down in Durham, N.C.? Maybe he'll make that phone call to prominent alumni about withholding major contributions if some demands aren't met.

The suspense will continue to drag on. The lives of the two women involved, as well as those of the players, have changed forever. The Durham community is torn with racial tension. Pressler has lost his job, and the entire lacrosse community is feeling the sting of this case.

Duke players and recruits will be granted releases from the university if requested, according to school officials, but it's not known whether any have decided to transfer.

Regardless, you know some of the Blue Devils have already been contacted. Such schools as Maryland, Georgetown, Towson and Hofstra would like to have an attackman like Matt Danowski or Zach Greer or a defenseman like Tony McDevitt.

Who wouldn't?

Everyone wants to keep his or her distance, but it's impossible because the rewards could be so great. Recruits for any sport at Duke, especially an African-American, have to reconsider about attending with so much racial tension in the air.

And now, what happens to the ACC? A four-team lacrosse tournament has turned into a three-team joke. Just let the top two teams in the league standings play for the championship. Anything else would be a farce, especially the way 2-9 North Carolina is playing.

As for next season, there is speculation Duke officials might suspend the program for three years, or they could impose other penalties. If the Blue Devils play next season, they would need to hire a coach at least shortly before or after the NCAA tournament in late May. He needs time to hire a staff and contact as many recruits as possible.

It's going to take some time to smooth over the problems of this program. Every day seems to add another twist to the case. It's a mess that's not going away, but wouldn't have been so bad if school officials and prosecutors had not overreacted.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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