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And in a city where the economy has faltered along with the rest of the Rust Belt, and where headlines often involve the words, “record-setting snow,” there’s another reason to support the coach: Basketball is a balm.

Not anymore.

That changed Nov. 17, when the allegations against Fine were made public.

One of Fine’s accusers, Bobby Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis said the abuse occurred at Fine’s home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four. Davis’ stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine began molesting him while he was in the fifth or sixth grade.

A third accuser, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli of Lewiston, Maine, came forward last Sunday. He said he told police that Fine molested him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel room after a game. He said Fine touched him “multiple” times in that one incident.

The allegations have rattled the Syracuse community, especially so soon after the Penn State child sex abuse case in which former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is accused in a grand jury indictment of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period.

Chancellor Nancy Cantor immediately made it clear in an e-mail to the Syracuse community that the school would not tolerate abuse: “We know that many question whether or not a university in today’s world can shine a harsh light on its athletics programs. We are aware that many wonder if university administrations are willing to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing that may disrupt a successful sports program. I can assure you I am not, and my fellow administrators are not. We hold everyone in our community to high standards and we don’t tolerate illegal, abusive or unethical behavior _no matter who you are.”

Boeheim, who’s paid a salary around $1.5 million, is a lifer.

Born and raised in nearby Lyons, Boeheim enrolled at Syracuse in 1962, was a walk-on with the basketball team that year, and by his senior season was a team captain along with Dave Bing. After graduating, Boeheim played pro ball in Scranton, Pa., then returned to Syracuse as a graduate assistant in 1969. He’s been there ever since.

For the city and the university, there are plenty of reasons to protect Boeheim’s reputation and the basketball program:

_ The Syracuse Convention and Tourism estimates the university pumps $179 million in travel-related spending into the region every year.

_ Just two NCAA teams, Syracuse and Kentucky, have drawn an average of more than 20,000 fans per game in each of the past 10 seasons.

_ In his 36th season, there have been eight Big East titles, 28 NCAA Tournament appearances, three title games and a national championship in 2003.

Now, Boeheim’s trying to shift the focus from his program to child abuse awareness.

Although he and his wife previously raised money for the McMahon/Ryan center, Boeheim said they want to raise awareness.

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