The Washington Times - May 20, 2009, 01:06PM

It wouldn’t be late May without some sort of Duke lacrosse subplot.

Obviously, the Blue Devils are still around, chasing that elusive title yet again as they make their fourth final four appearance in five years.

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But the other thing that comes up about now is which holdovers from the 2006 team that had its season zapped by false rape accusations will opt to continue their careers at Duke next year.

Well, star attackman Ned Crotty will, as Inside Lacrosse reported yesterday.

Two years after the NCAA gave an extra year of eligibility to all of the underclassmen on that ‘06 team, that decision is still a lightning rod in the sport.

The argument, as heard over and over again, is that Duke’s players held a party, hired strippers, brought in some booze and didn’t exactly behave in a gentlemanly manner – and because that got out of hand and further twisted by a district attorney with no concept of due process, those same players have been given an extra year of eligibility.

Consider it the concept of moral hazard brought to college athletics; why not behave in a dubious way when there’s no consequences?

Of course, the other side would argue that spring was a hellish experience and a severe price. Either way, the sport was permeated with resentment last spring, and more than a few people probably wanted to send a fruit basket or something to Johns Hopkins when the Blue Jays beat Duke in the semifinals.

(My take, from long ago and from now, is that the NCAA made a hasty, questionable decision and that Duke itself shouldn’t be rewarded when it didn’t offer any support to its athletes three years ago. That said, I have a hard time believing the scorn should be directed at the players who, while not angels, have every reason to take advantage of the opportunity an extra season presents).

Anyway, the point of it all is that resentment still lingers. It isn’t quite as strong this spring, mainly because Duke isn’t rolling out a bunch of fifth-year all-stars. Instead, it’s this useful crew that still doesn’t have a Matt Danowski or Tony McDevitt in the bunch:

* Jay Jennison: Anonymous short-stick d-middie who played in every game.

* Chris Loftus: Second-line midfielder with a goal and four assists

* Kevin Mayer: Reserve defenseman who appeared in seven games and didn’t even play in the quarterfinals against North Carolina

* Ryan McFadyen: A starting defenseman in 2007 and 2009 who provides a big (6-6, 245) presence

* Brad Ross: A three-year starter at midfield who produced his third straight 20-goal season

* Rob Schroeder: Starting goalie who got his first turn to start regularly a year late because Dan Loftus was a fifth-year senior a season ago.

Yes, McFadyen and Ross are of great use, and Schroeder finally got his chance. But here’s guessing Ross is the only name that pops up on the All-America lists this week.

Which brings us back to Crotty, who might be the country’s best player this season. And chances are, he’ll be among the best next year. But will using that fifth season cost him in some way in terms of accolades?

It shouldn’t, even if the esteemed panels that decide things like the Tewaaraton Trophy are filled with people with their own perceptions on matters.

It shouldn’t because Crotty’s decision is a logical one for him to make. It shouldn’t (in the short term) because Crotty would have had this season to play anyway. It shouldn’t because the point of such awards is to honor the best players – of which Crotty is no worse than the nation’s No. 2 player this season.

No, the Duke lacrosse/fifth-year story is far from dead. Not only will Crotty and some of his classmates get an extra season, there will be a trickle-down effect of freshmen who didn’t play a year ago in part because the fifth-year seniors returned – a phenomenon that could last quite some time, far longer than the NCAA could have fathomed when it made its decision in 2007.

But even with all of that, Crotty has earned whatever plaudits he receives from this year. He’s had a tremendous spring, and whatever lingering resentment remains, it shouldn’t be used to exert a backlash against the attackman.

Patrick Stevens