All Is Not Well And Good With Duke Athletics

By John Feinstein
Special to
Monday, May 28, 2007; 5:58 PM

So the Duke lacrosse team's saga will not be a Disney movie after all.

You know the story: Unfairly accused group of athletes finds redemption by coming back from a season cancelled to win a national championship. Sadly for the movie-makers, Duke came up short in Monday's national championship game, losing to Johns Hopkins in the final for the second time in three years.

Even with the loss, a lot of Duke people will tell you that the lacrosse team coming so close to a national championship and the charges against the three players accused of rape and sexual assault finally being dropped last month means that all is well and good with Duke athletics.

It is almost pointless to argue with the Duke loyalists who have bought into the notion that the lacrosse players were guilty of nothing more than, "boys being boys," (and it should be noted here that I am the holder of a Duke degree).

I have in my possession an e-mail sent by a friend and fellow Duke alum in which he details the Duke version of what happened that night. In between commas, he wrote the following: "Some racial epithets were directed at the strippers┬┐" Oh is that all? Just a few racial epithets? He also pointed out that the players had requested a white stripper and a Hispanic stripper but were sent two African-Americans. Don't you just hate when that happens? Poor kids. No wonder the party got out of control.

Enough apologizing and enough martyrdom. It was a known fact on the Duke campus for years that the lacrosse team overdid it when it came to partying. There was a written report in 2004 that said just that and Tallman Trask, the university vice president allegedly overseeing the athletic department, and Joe Alleva, allegedly the athletic director, did absolutely nothing about it. Alleva fired Mike Pressler, the lacrosse coach, because a scapegoat was needed in the immediate aftermath of the incident and Pressler took the hit.

Here's what's wrong with all this: No one at Duke is ever wrong. Duke's last president, Nan Keohane, made a terrible choice when she selected Alleva as athletic director in 1998. Everyone at Duke knew that Alleva was a pleasant man whose next original idea would be his first, someone whose main asset when applying for the job was the fact that his racquetball partner was Mike Krzyzewski.

Five years later, Alleva had lived down to everything expected of him: taking a bad football program and making it worse, hiring a crony as baseball coach who HAD to be fired because the team was awful and former players came forward to say he had encouraged them to use steroids, and looking foolish almost everyone time he opened his mouth in public (which he rarely did, usually hiding behind press releases). Alleva did what everyone else at Duke has done for years and rode the coattails of Krzyzewski's successful basketball team. Keohane looked at this record and gave Alleva a new contract.

Why? Because she was a typical academician: Completely unable to admit a mistake.

Keohane finally left in 2004, going off to write tedious, self-righteous academic tomes. She was succeeded by Richard Brodhead who eventually was saddled with the lacrosse scandal┬┐And handled it horribly.

Suspending the season while waiting for the results of DNA testing was understandable. But once the DNA tests came back completely negative, Brodhead should have reinstated the season. He didn't though, in large part because his closest advisors: Trask, Alleva and university flack John Burness --ALL Keohane hires --didn't have the spine to tell him to do so. It is an indictment of Brodhead's leadership that, in spite of the fact that Trask, Alleva and Burness have consistently proven themselves incompetent, he hasn't brought in his own people to replace them.

Alleva is now overseeing a football program that hasn't won a game against a Division 1-A team since 2004. He had the chance to hire Bobby Ross as his football coach three years ago --the same Bobby Ross who won a national championship at Georgia Tech (not Notre Dame, not Nebraska, Georgia Tech) and took the San Diego Chargers to their only Super Bowl -- and hired the immortal Ted Roof instead.

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