- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

The NCAA issued a season-of-competition waiver to 33 Duke men’s lacrosse players, granting all of the non-seniors on last year’s team an extra year of eligibility after rape accusations short-circuited the 2006 season.

The decision, prompted by a request from Duke, affords several stars on this year’s national runners-up — including first-team All-Americans Matt Danowski, Casey Carroll and Nick O’Hara and third-team All-Americans Dan Loftus and Tony McDevitt — the opportunity to return next year for a fifth season.

The extra year of eligibility, which also will be available to underclassmen, can be used at Duke or another NCAA school.

“The opportunity for the young men in our program to continue their education is of great benefit,” Duke coach John Danowski, the father of Matt Danowski, said in a statement. “The guys will take an individual look at their options, and we’ll certainly help them in that decision-making process.”

The Blue Devils’ 2006 season was halted after an exotic dancer hired to perform at a team party accused three players of rape. Duke suspended the program and forced coach Mike Pressler to resign in April 2006 with the team eight games into a schedule of at least 16 games.

The decision comes just two days after Johns Hopkins upended Duke 12-11 in Monday’s national title game and less than a week after the waiver request became public.

“I’m a little stunned that the NCAA would move so quickly,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “It sure feels like ‘Ah, it’s just lacrosse.’ Imagine for yourself if this was football or basketball. I can’t believe it would happen so fast. … The whole process just seems kind of smelly to me.”

The program was reinstated last summer, and John Danowski was hired away from Hofstra to take over the team. The Blue Devils went 17-3 and earned the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 seed this spring, and charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense have been dropped against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

There were no obvious signs Monday that Duke’s seniors believed they might have another chance to play. Matt Danowski choked up during a postgame press conference, overcome by prospect of the end of the tight-knit group’s time together.

Now, perhaps some or all of those players will be back.

“When we think back to our junior season and losing that year and not having the opportunity to go and compete for a national championship and not being able to play the sport that we love, that hurt just as much as us losing the national championship game this Monday,” McDevitt said in a statement. “It is well deserved, and we’re happy that the NCAA made the right decision. Now, it’s just about weighing our options and seeing what’s out there.”

An NCAA press release said the organization took into account the unusual circumstances for the season’s cancellation, the difficulties the team faced because of false accusations and the unanimous support of ACC university presidents for the waiver while making its decision.

However, the decision seems unusual simply because Duke — rather than an external force — opted to cut last season short. The scandal catapulted lacrosse into the mainstream and overshadowed most of last year’s on-field events, including Virginia’s unbeaten run to a title.

The Blue Devils’ saga relegated every other team to secondary status at last weekend’s final four in Baltimore. But even though Duke endured endless scrutiny in the last 15 months, yesterday’s decision could be a sign of overcompensation to correct past wrongs.

“The court of public opinion swung in favor of the Duke kids and their program,” Starsia said. “As people got to know them, people started saying, ‘They’re not so bad, and they made a mistake, and they paid a severe price.’ You feel like they have suffered, but are they being rewarded for what happened?

“Even without making any judgments about the players, all of us in lacrosse took a little hit here. The whole thing, it just doesn’t feel right to me.”

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