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In Light of Murder Investigation, Virginia Should Shut Down Lacrosse Program

May 7, 2010 – 9:00 PM
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Kevin Blackistone

Kevin Blackistone %BloggerTitle%

As the 2006 regular season was winding down for the Duke men's lacrosse team, Duke president Richard Brodhead called off the rest of the team's schedule and the Duke athletics director at the time, Joe Alleva, announced that the school was accepting the resignation of the team's coach, Mike Pressler. It all came in response to an allegation that several members of Pressler's team raped a stripper they'd procured for a party.

A year later, after the charges proved false, Duke and Pressler agreed to a financial settlement, undisclosed, after Pressler argued that the university wrongfully terminated his employment.

I guess the Duke experience is why the University of Virginia hasn't yet shut down the remainder of its men's lacrosse season and forced the team's coach, Dom Starsia, who sadly lost his father on Friday, to resign. The school must be considering legal ramifications.

But I can't imagine what jeopardy UVA would put itself in by doing the smart thing -- canceling the rest of the team's campaign, immediately, and at least suspending the coach until the sordid tragedy of the murder of its women's lacrosse player, Yeardley Love, and the arrest of one of its men's lacrosse players, George Huguely (right), for her killing is all sorted out.

I can understand why the women's team is continuing to play under the pall of it all. It is doing so out of honor to its slain sister, whose funeral it attended Saturday in Baltimore.

It is appalling to me, however, that the men's team is planning to play in the NCAA championship tournament that many lacrosse followers predicted this season it would win. I know they are doing what the Love family told UVA athletic director Craig Littlepage was their desire.

But this doesn't feel like a case of the games having to go on for normalcy or healing or any other reason. They shouldn't.

They should've pulled their team from consideration by the tournament selection committee. In the wake of all of this, the team doesn't seem worthy.
More Coverage

News: Teams Prep for Tournament
Steele: UVa Finding Out About Huguely's Past
Henry: Former Duke Lax Player Grieves
Full Coverage: Yeardley Love | George Huguely

That may seem like a harsh punishment to the other members of the 41-man team who were not arrested in Love's death, but it isn't about punishment. It is about an unfolding parallel between the Virginia saga and the Duke case that should be looked at closely right now. It is documented unseemly behavior, and in some cases criminal behavior, of teammates that appear to have been accepted as boys just being boys.

It is the same thing, by the way, that football teams that appear to have run amuck should do. As President Obama likes to say, this is a teaching moment -- not just for the young adults involved but for the older adults entrusted with their education.

UVA officials would be smart to review the Report of the Lacrosse Ad Hoc Review Committee at Duke that investigated the Duke lacrosse team's scandal four years ago. Its very first finding was that "many lacrosse players increasingly have been socially irresponsible consumers of alcohol. Their extensive record of repetitive misconduct should have alarmed administrators responsible for student discipline."

But those at Duke entrusted with such a responsibility didn't react. The miscreants on the team -- underage drinkers, vandals, pot smokers, et al. -- basically escaped punishment.

"Administrators brought the disciplinary record of his [Pressler's] players to the attention of Coach Pressler," the report stated. "But neither administrators in Student Affairs nor administrators responsible for the Athletic Department adequately conveyed to Coach Pressler any sense of alarm. Nor did the administrators responsible for the Athletic Department demand that Coach Pressler take extraordinary action to address the problem.

"Indeed, after advising Coach Pressler of his team's problematic disciplinary record, the Athletic Director extended the coach's contract for an unprecedented three years."

The Washington Post reported information this past week that suggested Virginia officials had their collective heads stuck in the same sand. The Post uncovered court records that showed that eight of Virginia men's lacrosse players, including the accused murderer Huguely, were charged with alcohol-related offenses at some point during their time at the Charlottesville, Va., university.

The charges, for which only two players escaped, included underage alcohol possession, using a fake ID and DWI. Huguely's previous case in November 2008 included, The Post wrote: "... resisting arrest, public swearing and public intoxication after a drunken scuffle with a female police officer during a visit to Lexington, Va. The officer said Huguely told her, 'I'll kill you. I'll kill all of y'all. I'm not going to jail,' in a diatribe laced with racial, sexual and other vulgar terms. She used a Taser to subdue him."

That sounded like a player out of control on a team that was ready to spin out of control, and no one in authority appeared to do much about it.

It may look to be too late now, but that shouldn't be a reason to continue playing.

The Duke investigators, who came from the administration and faculty, decided in the end that the university hadn't needed to suspend the team further. But at least it put on the brakes to what it learned was destructive behavior before it could get any worse.

As Alleva said in accepting Pressler's resignation: "Coach Pressler offered me his resignation ... and I accepted it. I fully support President Brodhead's decision to cancel the remainder of the season as well as his outrage at the latest developments involving the men's lacrosse program. I believe this is in the best interests of the program, the department of athletics and the university."

Now is the time for Virginia to bring everything to a screeching halt. Actually, this past week was. The police and crime lab and lawyers are handling the murder. The university should stop everything until it understands what role its oversight, or lack thereof, may have played in allowing the apparent unraveling of one of its students.

The national lacrosse championship isn't more important. The productive future of the young men the school is entrusted with developing into productive citizens is what is paramount and always should have been.

Filed under: Sports
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