November 17, 2011
As Penn State begins the healing process in the wake of one of the most horrifying scandals in college sports history, a new set of stomach-turning child rape allegations has rocked another prominent university's athletic department.
Syracuse police told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" they are in the preliminary stages of looking into allegations that Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine molested a former ball boy for a dozen years beginning when the boy entered seventh grade in 1983.
The alleged victim, 39-year-old Bobby Davis, said the molestation took place everywhere from Fine's home to the basketball facilities at Syracuse to hotel rooms before road games or during recruiting trips. "Outside the Lines" reporter Mark Schwarz said on ESPN Thursday night that Davis told him Fine molested him "hundreds if not a thousand times" with the abuse continuing until he was 27 years old.
Davis told "Outside the Lines" he never told Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim about the abuse, but Boeheim often saw Davis lying on Fine's bed in a hotel room yet didn't question his longtime colleague about it. Although Davis said he reported the abuse to Syracuse police in 2003, he said a detective told him the statute of limitations had run out and an investigation would only be launched if Davis could produce a current victim.
Syracuse responded to the ESPN.com report by placing Fine on administrative leave "in light of the new allegations and the Syracuse City Police investigation."
Kevin Quinn, the school's senior vice president of public affairs, released a statement Thursday night indicating Davis first contacted the university in 2005 regarding the alleged "inappropriate contact" by Fine. Davis told school officials Syracuse police had declined to pursue the matter, but Quinn said the university launched its own investigation anyway.
"That nearly four-month long investigation included a number of interviews with people the complainant said would support his claims," Quinn said. "All of those identified by the complainant denied any knowledge of wrongful conduct by the associate coach. The associate coach also vehemently denied the allegations.
"Syracuse University takes any allegation of this sort extremely seriously and has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. If any evidence or corroboration of the allegations had surfaced, we would have terminated the associate coach and reported it to the police immediately. We understand that the Syracuse City Police has now reopened the case, and Syracuse University will cooperate fully. We are steadfastly committed ensuring that SU remains a safe place for every member of our campus community."
Boeheim stood by Fine when reached by The New York Times, noting that the university's investigation failed to find anyone who could corroborate Davis' allegations.
"I've known Bernie Fine for 45 years, and there's absolutely no way that I believe any of this could possibly have happened," Boeheim told the Times. "That's the bottom line."
Fine, now in his 35th season as an assistant coach at his alma mater, was hired by Boeheim in 1976. He has developed numerous future NBA big men over the years, from Danny Schayes, to Rony Seikaly, to Etan Thomas.
At a time when the nation is likely quick to pass judgment against Fine with the horrors of the Jerry Sandusky scandal fresh in our minds, it's important to note the differences between the allegations.
First of all, there's a big difference between police starting to investigate Fine and a 23-page attorney general report and a grand jury indictment in the case of the ex-Penn State defensive coordinator. Secondly, ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard initially must have had some misgivings about Davis' allegations because they both chose not to run them in 2003 when they couldn't find a second victim to corroborate the story. And third, if Syracuse's statement is accurate and honest that it investigated for four months, then school officials must have felt confident the accusations Davis made were false since Fine remains employed.
Still, the fact that ESPN.com now has a second man — albeit a relative of Davis — alleging that Fine molested him should be enough to make anyone rushing to defend the longtime assistant coach at least uneasy. It's unfair to assume guilt, but these allegations are far too horrifying to be brushed off either.