Duke Committee Recommends Lacrosse Team Resume Play Next Season

A Duke University committee recommended Monday that the school's lacrosse team resume play next season, but said the team needs strict monitoring because of a history of problems tied to alcohol.

"Although the pattern of misconduct in recent years by the lacrosse team is alarming, the evidence reviewed ... does not warrant suspension of the sport," a committee of seven faculty members wrote in a report.

Duke canceled the highly ranked lacrosse team's season last month, following allegations that a black woman was raped and beaten by three white men at a team party where she had been hired to strip.

A grand jury has indicted two players on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual assault, and District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he hopes to charge a third person.

The report released Monday night did not consider the rape allegations, but instead focused on the behavior of the team during the past five years. It found that while the team performed well academically and athletically, "a large number of the members of the team have been socially irresponsible when under the influence of alcohol."

"We looked closely but found no compelling evidence to support claims that these players are racist or have a record of sexual violence," said Duke law professor James E. Coleman Jr., who led the committee.

The rape allegations led Duke to accept the resignation of coach Mike Pressler and begin several internal investigations, including the examination of the lacrosse program.

The two players charged — sophomores Reade Seligmann, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, of Garden City, N.Y. — have been released on $400,000 bond and are scheduled to appear in court May 15.

A third of current team members have been cited in recent years for offenses ranging from underage drinking to public urination. Neither Seligmann nor Finnerty was among them, although Finnerty was charged last year with simple assault in Washington, D.C.

The report was released the same day Seligmann's attorney, Kirk Osborn, demanded Nifong's removal from the case, accusing him of using it to help his election prospects. Nifong faces a primary election Tuesday that could decide whether he remains in office.

"They don't want to go up against me," Nifong said when asked outside court Monday about the defense request for his removal. He has denied any political motivation behind his investigation.

In a statement released with the report, Duke President Richard Brodhead did not offer an opinion on the panel's recommendation, saying only that the report will "give us useful information as we consider the future of men's lacrosse at Duke in the weeks ahead."

"The picture that emerges is complex, with players praised as respectful to employees who worked near the team, and criticized for their inability to learn from multiple citations for inappropriate behavior," Brodhead said.

The report concluded that the disciplinary record of the lacrosse team was "noticeably worse" than other athletic teams at Duke, with a larger percentage of lacrosse players involved in alcohol-related incidents.

But, Coleman said, "the conduct of lacrosse players did not differ from the misconduct of other Duke students who drink too much and unfairly impose upon their neighbors."

The report also found that university administrators learned of the team's "extensive disciplinary record" in 2004, but except for the coach and the school's dean of judicial affairs, no one else at Duke "appears to have treated the lacrosse team's disciplinary record as a matter of serious concern."

The coach's attorney said he would have no comment on the report.

Defense attorneys have strongly proclaimed the players' innocence, often citing DNA tests they said failed to connect the accuser and the lacrosse players tested.

Also Monday, Osborn asked the court to throw out the photo identifications made by the accuser, calling the police photo lineup "unnecessarily suggestive" because she was shown only photos of lacrosse players. He alleged that Nifong was improperly involved in the lineup and led police to violate their own policies.

Osborn's filings also included evidence and affidavits supporting a timeline the defense says proves Seligmann was not at the party long enough to have committed the assault described by the 27-year-old woman, who attends a nearby university.

In recent days, the defense has also attacked the accuser's credibility.

Osborn's motions mentioned a 1996 rape allegation made by the woman, which did not lead to any charges, and a report she made in 1998, in which she accused her then-husband of threatening to kill her. Osborn's motion said she later failed to appear at a court hearing on the complaint, which was dismissed.