Syracuse Coach Calls Molestation Claims 'Patently False,' as School Vows Not to 'Turn Blind Eye'
Syracuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor said the school will not "turn a blind eye" in the wake of renewed molestation allegations against longtime assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, who countered Friday that the allegations were "patently false."
Syracuse University put Fine on administrative leave "in light of the new allegations" and an investigation by the Syracuse City Police. ESPN said the accusations were made by two former ball boys.
Some, however, have blasted the allegations as lies.
Former Syracuse and NBA star Rony Seikaly called the accusations "disgusting and unbelievable" in an interview Thursday with the New York Post.
Seikaly, who attended Syracuse from 1984 to '88, defended Fine's character to the newspaper and questioned the timing of the accusations, which come just two weeks after Penn State was rocked by a child sex abuse scandal.
"I’m disgusted by the guy," Seikaly said of 39-year-old Bobby Davis, who told ESPN that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27.
"Bernie Fine is the glue of the program. Bernie Fine is all about helping people. He would never do something like that. He is one of the very best people I know. It’s disgusting that anyone would say it. It’s just unbelievable," Seikaly said.
Davis' stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine molested him starting while he was in fifth or sixth grade.
Fine is in his 35th season as a Syracuse assistant.
"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," Cantor said in an email Friday morning to students, faculty and staff. "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."
Fine's attorney on Friday released a statement by the coach, denying the charges as "pattently false."
"Sadly, we live in an allegation-based society and an internet age where in a matter of minutes one's lifelong reputation can be severely damaged," Fine said. "I am confident that, as in the past, a review of these allegations will be discredited and restore my reputation."
Cantor said Fine "should be accorded a fair opportunity to defend himself against these accusations."
Orange coach Jim Boeheim also defended Fine, saying in a statement that: "This matter was fully investigated by the university in 2005 and it was determined that the allegations were unfounded.
"I have known Bernie Fine for more than 40 years. I have never seen or witnessed anything to suggest that he would (have) been involved in any of the activities alleged. Had I seen or suspected anything, I would have taken action. Bernie has my full support."
ESPN said it first investigated the accusations in 2003, but decided not to run the story because there was no independent evidence to corroborate the allegations. Recently, a second man contacted ESPN, alleging that Fine also molested him. That person said he decided to come forward after seeing the Penn State coverage.
The Post-Standard said it, too, held off in 2003 for the same reason.
A statement by Kevin Quinn, the school's senior vice president for public affairs, said Syracuse was contacted in 2005 by "an adult male who told us that he had reported to the Syracuse City Police that he had been subjected to inappropriate contact by an associate men's basketball coach."
Quinn said the alleged activity took place in the 1980s and 1990s.
"We were informed by the complainant that the Syracuse City Police had declined to pursue the matter because the statute of limitations had expired," Quinn said.
Quinn said the school conducted its own four-month investigation at that time, including interviews with people the accuser said would support his allegations, but that all of them "denied any knowledge of wrongful conduct" and that the coach also denied the allegations.
Davis said he felt bitter emotions after sex scandals emerged in the Catholic Church and, lately, with the allegations and charges against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
In the Penn State case, Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. The case cost Joe Paterno his job, and former school administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are charged with not properly alerting authorities to suspected abuse and perjury.
Davis told ESPN that Boeheim knew he was traveling on the road and sleeping in Fine's room.
"Boeheim saw me with Bernie all the time in the hotel rooms, on road trips," Davis said. "He'd come in, and see me laying in the bed, kind of glance at me like, `What are you doing here?' But he wouldn't say that. He'd just scowl. And I would look at him like, I'd be nervous. I felt embarrassed `cause I felt stupid that I'm there. I'm not supposed to be here. I know it, and Boeheim's not stupid."
In a telephone interview Thursday night with the Associated Press, Boeheim said: "This kid came forward and there was no one to corroborate his story. Not one. Not one. ... They said I walked into Bernie's room on the road and saw this. I have never walked into Bernie's room on the road. This isn't true. This just isn't true."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.