RALEIGH, N.C. -- The NCAA has granted Duke's request for an extra year of eligibility for its men's lacrosse players following rape allegations that led to the cancellation of much of last season.
The decision affects 33 players who were not seniors during the 2006 season, and it grants them a fifth year of eligibility regardless of whether they play at Duke or another school. The announcement Wednesday came just two days after the Blue Devils lost to Johns Hopkins by a goal in the NCAA championship game for the second time in three seasons.
"These individuals were involved in an unusual circumstance that we believe warrants providing them the opportunity to complete their four years of competition," said Jennifer Strawley, NCAA director of student-athlete reinstatement and membership services.
Everybody in the lacrosse world was embarrassed by what happened. But it almost feels now as if nobody's really paying for this thing.
Virginia coach Dom Starsia on being unhappy with the decision
Duke played just eight games last year before the university canceled what was left of the season as police investigated allegations a woman was sexually assaulted at a March 2006 team party. Players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans were later
indicted, but the accusations were eventually debunked by North Carolina's top prosecutor, who called the trio "innocent" victims of a "tragic rush to accuse."
This year's seniors would be eligible next season by pursuing graduate-level course work. Coach John Danowski said he planned to talk with them in the coming weeks to see if any would be interested in staying.
"Sometimes four years runs its course and they might want to move on and forward with their lives," said Danowski, whose son, Matt, was a senior All-American for Duke. "Certainly we'll give them their space. Everybody assumed this was a long shot and we didn't allow them to think about that because we were also playing for the national championship.
"For these [seniors] ... whatever they want is fine with me," he said.
Virginia coach Dom Starsia, whose Cavaliers won the national championship in 2006, was unhappy with the decision, though he said it was about more than seeing some of Duke's top players possibly stick around a while longer.
"Everybody in the lacrosse world was embarrassed by what happened," he said. "But it almost feels now as if nobody's really paying for this thing. I would've been the first to say that Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty probably deserved another year. But I'm not sure that everybody involved here should be painted with the same broad brush and it just seems that's what the NCAA chose to do.
"Most of these wounds seem to be self-inflicted at Duke. I'm not sure if the institution has kind of held itself accountable for everything that happened," he added.
Duke defenseman Tony McDevitt said he talked with his fellow seniors after the NCAA's decision, though it was too early to say whether any would stay and put post-graduation plans on hold.
"I think it's well-deserved," said McDevitt, who is scheduled to start working with Merrill Lynch in New York in July. "When we think back to our junior years, when we lost that season and didn't have a chance to play for a title, that hurt a lot and it still
hurts. To have an opportunity to play a full four years -- which is what we all expected to do when we came to Duke -- it's great and definitely worth thinking about."
The NCAA said it considered several factors, including unanimous support from the presidents of the Atlantic Coast Conference universities, according to a news release.
Seligmann and Finnerty were sophomores when they were suspended from the university after charges were filed, though they were invited back when it was clear the case had no merit. Neither accepted, with Seligmann opting this week to attend Brown
University and play lacrosse there. Evans graduated the day before he was indicted last May.
Also on Wednesday, a Duke alumnus bought a full-page ad in USA Today to show support for the program. The headline on the ad reads, "For a team very few people stood by, how about a standing ovation?"