SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Syracuse men’s basketball is unbeaten and unsettled.
Two weeks after vilifying two former ball boys who accused Fine, Boeheim used his postgame press conference Friday to apologize for questioning the accusers’ motives and admitted “this has been a hard time.”
During Friday night’s win over No. 10 Florida, some 24,000 Orange-clad fans packed the Carrier Dome and cheered as always for the man who is the face of the program.
But 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. University trustees fired Paterno on Nov. 9, four days after charges were filed against Sandusky, amid mounting pressure that school leaders should have done more to prevent alleged abuse.
“Those 1 million people in this (metro) community, they were traumatized and continue to be watching this unfold,” said former Syracuse mayor Tom Young. “It’s put people on edge, especially people in positions of responsibility pertinent to this case. They have taken a deep breath and they’re allowing the investigation to take its course.”
The cases at the two schools are often compared because they involve long-tenured, iconic coaches in highly successful programs rocked by allegations of sexual abuse against children. But there are crucial differences.
Penn State’s troubles erupted publicly when Sandusky was formally charged Nov. 5.
In Syracuse, the child molestation allegations came out in the media the same day local police opened an investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Secret Service are now leading the investigation.
Two former ball boys told ESPN last month that Fine molested them decades ago. Bobby Davis, now 39, said 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.
Fine called the allegations “patently false” and has not spoken publicly since. The university fired him last Sunday after a third accuser stepped forward and ESPN played an audiotape, recorded by Davis, of an October 2002 telephone conversation between him and a woman ESPN identified as Fine’s wife, Laurie, in which she says she knew “everything that went on.”
Adding to the uncertainty and anxiety was Boeheim himself.
When the allegations first surfaced, he staunchly, even defiantly, supported his old friend and said the accusations were lies to capitalize on the Penn State scandal and make money off a lawsuit. When Fine was fired after a third man came forward and the tape was revealed, Boeheim changed course, releasing a statement saying he regretted any statements he made that might have been “insensitive to victims of abuse.” Last Tuesday, he said it was wrong to question the motives of the men but said he defended Fine based on what he knew at the time. By Friday night, Boeheim had softened his tone again. In a halting voice, he paused frequently as he fully apologized: “I shouldn’t have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that, and I regret any harm that I caused.”
Michael Yormark, a 21-year-old junior studying entrepreneurship and marketing at the university said there is a sense of anticipation on campus.
“If Bernie Fine did do something, it’s terrible,” he said Saturday. “But you can’t really prove anything until you see it in court, you see the evidence. Until that point, every university has little bits, you know, that they’re not proud of. As a whole I think Syracuse as a university will overcome this.”