Five of the 12 Duke men's lacrosse seniors, including national Player of the Year Matt Danowski and co-captain Ed Douglas from Baltimore, are seriously considering returning to the university and taking advantage of an NCAA-approved extra year of eligibility, according to players and team officials.
The return of those players would preserve a wealth of talent and experience on a team that lost the national title game, 12-11, to Johns Hopkins on May 28.
The waiver, which Virginia coach Dom Starsia has said gives Duke an unfair advantage, was granted May 30 to make up for Duke's 2006 season, which was cut short after now-discredited rape allegations were lodged against three players. There has been speculation since then in the media and at other schools about which players might return.
Duke said it is premature to announce who is returning because some of the players haven't been accepted by graduate programs. Officials didn't dispute that Danowski, Douglas, highly touted defenseman Tony McDevitt and two others have looked into going back.
Duke coach John Danowski, Matt's father, said this week that the athletic department is seeking a new NCAA waiver to clarify that Douglas, a Gilman graduate, can play another season. He was eligible as a graduate student last year because he didn't play his freshman year.
"The appeal is in the process, and I would like to come back," Douglas said yesterday.
Danowski said the outcome of the appeal could have implications for the future eligibility of other players who missed a year because of injury or redshirt and now may get two extra seasons. Among those in that position are midfielder Rob Wellington, who missed last year's junior season with a knee injury.
John Danowski said the eligibility issue wasn't about athletics, but rather about the athletes' lives.
"I haven't recruited one kid, including my son. This is not about lacrosse," the coach said. "It's about an opportunity to get a master's degree from Duke University, and is that important."
Having fifth-year seniors - or sixth-year, in Douglas' case - poses complications.
"Things have to come together with their schooling, with their scholarship money, with their housing," said Duke sports information director Art Chase.
The team is allotted 12.6 scholarships, and most players get partial shares. There were 41 players on last year's roster.
For some players, the opportunity to return is hard to resist.
"If I have the chance to get a master's degree from Duke University, that's a tough thing to turn down," McDevitt said recently.