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Duke lacrosse players given extra eligibility

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Two days after Duke's toughest loss of 2007, the lacrosse team received a victory from the NCAA that will reverberate well into the 2008 season.

The NCAA yesterday granted an extra year of eligibility to 33 lacrosse team members whose 2006 season was canceled in the wake of rape allegations against three players, allegations that ultimately resulted in dropped charges.

"The events of last spring are unprecedented," Duke coach John Danowski said. "Now, the response and the reaction to everything from last spring is unprecedented. And why should this be any different?"

Danowski, who became coach after Mike Pressler resigned, learned of the reprieve from Duke athletic director Joe Alleva while riding in a taxi with his son, Matt Danowski, when they were in Washington for last night's lacrosse awards banquet at the National Geographic Society. He characterized the news as another in a series of "aftershocks" to last spring's upheaval.

The rest of the college lacrosse world greeted the news with skepticism.

"I like the Duke kids and feel the pain they went through, but you have to understand I'm coming from a competitive situation," Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. "It's difficult to comprehend having to play against five classes of players rather than four."

Cottle suggested that Duke, which aborted the 2006 season after eight games, and the NCAA had overreacted.

"It was an overreaction on one side to stop the season, and it's an overreaction on the other side to give them another season after they already played [eight] games," he said.

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, whose Blue Jays defeated Duke in Monday's national championship game, concurred.

"There is a part of you that says, 'Hey, good for [the players].' They were wronged. But there is a part of you that says, 'Hey, Duke University made a lot of mistakes' " in the aftermath of the allegations.

"This is going to affect a lot of things. It affects finances. If all [12.6] scholarships are given away, how do they come back? How does it work for the kids who were recruited and are coming in, thinking they've got an opportunity to play?"

Loyola coach Charley Toomey expressed similar sentiments.

"I'm happy for the young men, but I think it opens up a lot of new issues," he said. "It opens up Pandora's box."

The perspective in Durham, N.C., was predictably different.

In a statement released by the university, Alleva called the prompt decision from the NCAA a "fair resolution to our situation. This represents the NCAA's recognition of how extraordinary the circumstances surrounding our team were last spring."

Danowski said he would give his players a chance to reflect before making a decision on whether to return.

"It will be an individual, case-by-case basis," he said. "Then we'll sit down and talk with each of them.

"This is about the kids and their futures. If working on a master's degree can give you an advantage in life for your job, this may be an opportunity for some guys. Some guys may be done with college lacrosse. ... If they want to get out of Dodge and get on with their lives, good for them.

"It should be their choice. And I think it's wonderful they have that choice."

Senior defenseman Tony McDevitt said in a statement: "It is well-deserved and we're happy that the NCAA made the right decision. ... Anytime you can get a chance to enhance your educational resume, especially at a school like Duke, you have to think about it.

"For me, it's still about education, and if I have the chance to get a master's degree from Duke University, that's a tough thing to turn down."

The NCAA waiver, granted by a reinstatement staff, allows each of the lacrosse players who participated on the 2006 team a fifth year of eligibility, whether at Duke or another NCAA school.

"These individuals were involved in an unusual circumstance that we believe warrants providing them the opportunity to complete their four years of competition," Jennifer Strawley, NCAA director of student-athlete reinstatement and membership services, said in a news release.

Among factors considered were the extenuating circumstances, the hardship the team endured because of false allegations, and the unanimous endorsement by the Atlantic Coast Conference university presidents for the waiver.

Although granting an extra year to an entire team is unusual, it is not unprecedented.

The NCAA granted an extra year to Tulane University and University of New Orleans athletes whose sports were dropped in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

ken.murray@baltsun.com gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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