At Duke, Players Granted Extra Year after Rape Investigation Get ... Another Senior Moment
Byline: Patrick Stevens, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
DURHAM, N.C. - The signs were impossible to miss while driving onto Duke's campus late last month, reminders driven into the sod in front yards and at street corners of looming change.
"I was pulling up to a light, and I saw the same thing - 'Freda Black for district attorney,' " midfielder Michael Ward said. "I'm thinking, 'Why couldn't we get this lady in back then?' "
Then was two years ago, when three of Ward's Duke lacrosse teammates faced rape accusations and the Blue Devils' season was canceled after only eight games.
So many of the major names from that spring either have left their jobs - district attorney Mike Nifong, police investigators Mark Gottlieb and Benjamin Himan, Duke athletic director Joe Alleva - or will retire by the end of June (John Burness, Duke's senior vice president for public affairs).
The three players wrongfully charged with rape are gone, too: David Evans graduated. Reade Seligmann transferred to Brown and Collin Finnerty to Loyola.
But many players remain, some longer than anyone would expect. The NCAA granted the remaining players from the 2006 team an extra year of eligibility last spring.
Ward is one of five fifth-year seniors on Duke's roster this year, a group writing another chapter to their careers while irritating many in the lacrosse world who view the Blue Devils as an all-star team.
Sure enough, Duke (16-1) is the top seed in the NCAA tournament, which begins this weekend.
"This program won't be normal for a couple years, I don't think, and this fifth-year thing probably delayed that process even more," senior Matt Danowski said. "What happened two years ago is going to stay with this program."
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The Blue Devils' heralded senior class - including Danowski, the Tewaaraton Trophy winner - lost 12-11 to Johns Hopkins in the NCAA final May 28.
It wasn't a time for goodbyes since the group quickly left for a postgraduation trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. But their college lacrosse careers seemed over - until the NCAA issued its ruling two days later.
Some guys were emotionally spent after a draining 14 months in Durham since the case first made headlines. Others had jobs to step into. Midfielder Peter Lamade transferred to Virginia to play out his extra season.
Others - Danowski, Ward, goalie Dan Loftus, defenseman Tony McDevitt and long pole Nick O'Hara - soon discussed the opportunity awaiting them.
"We were just like, 'Let's do this,' " Loftus said. "We all applied [to graduate school]. We all got in. From that point on we said to ourselves, let's not put pressure on ourselves."
There were nagging issues to take care of, particularly with finances. The business school-bound McDevitt reupped his apartment lease and soon snagged one next door to complete something of a super-senior housing complex. Ward delayed his entrance to law school.
Coach John Danowski faced blending two groups of seniors together. One talent-laden group already experienced a last run, only to be handed another. There also was the possible need to smooth egos of players who waited their turn for a larger on-field presence, only to be relegated to a reduced role.
"I guess there's a natural progress as far as leadership goes on a team," McDevitt said. "We wanted to be very sensitive of the seniors. We wanted to allow them to have leadership roles on and off the field, especially off the field because that's where a lot of bonding goes on. …