Sunday, 9 April 2006

College kids drank, had parties with strippers; News at 11

Today’s News & Observer breathlessly reports that under ex-coach Bill Hillier, the Duke baseball team “had trouble with heavy drinking, rowdiness and academic problems.” Reporter Ned Bennett goes on to say that, after canning Hillier,

the university did not undertake the kind of sweeping assessment of its athletic culture that has been triggered by the lacrosse team. Had it done so, it might have uncovered conditions similar to what led to the lacrosse incident. The baseball players, too, had a practice of bringing strippers to team parties.

“We always had parties at the baseball house,” said DeMarco, now a graduate student at Fairfield University. “The thing to do was to get strippers.”

At a party he attended, DeMarco said, the dancer brought an imposing male bodyguard.

“I remember that night with the stripper,” he said. “There were video cameras, some big, tough guy there guarding her. It was pretty shady.”

Is this evidence of a lack of institutional control, or just part of an effort by the N&O to further poison (if that’s even possible at this point) town-gown relations?

What to do when the dust settles

At some point—perhaps in a few days, perhaps in a few months—the Duke lacrosse rape allegations will be resolved, at least in terms of the criminal issues. The question arises as to what Duke should do then. Dealing with the players is the easy stuff (these expectations are my predictions and are not normative):

  • Any players charged with battery, assault, or the like will almost certainly be expelled from the university (or suspended indefinitely, with expulsion to follow upon conviction). Even if acquitted, I doubt they would be welcome to return to the university.
  • Other players present at the party probably won’t be expelled; I would expect any players with past disciplinary issues to be suspended from the university for a semester or year, and others to receive some probationary sanction. If no charges for violent offenses are filed against any players, I would expect any player present at the party to be subject to these sanctions.
  • Ryan McFadyen will probably be allowed to return to the university if no rape or battery charges are filed against anyone. My guess is that he probably will choose not to return, though.

What is to be done about the men’s lacrosse program and athletics in general? Assume, for the sake of argument, that it is decided there has been a lack of institutional control over student-athletes’ behavior—which probably is a fair assessment. If that is the case, I think a number of solutions present themselves:

  • I expect that Duke will abandon running a men’s lacrosse program. It is not particularly popular in the region; it doesn’t recruit a very ethnically diverse pool of athletes; and it loses money. Getting rid of the program would also help Duke improve its Title IX situation and save the headache of searching for a new coach. I expect this decision to be made soon; in fact, I suspect it has already been decided, probably as a condition of AD Joe Alleva keeping his job.
  • I expect that student athletes will be required to live on campus for four years starting in August 2007. If this requires letting other students out of the six-semester obligation in order to have sufficient housing over the short term, so be it.
  • Student-athletes will probably also be housed across campus and not allowed to be concentrated in particular quads. They might even be barred from living on Central, which might require letting non-athlete sophomores live on Central.

I also expect that many suggestions for “consciousness raising,” “encouraging substance-free living,” and “diversity awareness” will be made, and accepted, by the committees studying these issues. No doubt these proponents will overlook the fact that the men’s lacrosse team was, if anything, exposed more to these things than most students—and they proved completely ineffective in curbing their abhorrent behavior.

Over the long term, I expect that the six-semester requirement to live on campus will be replaced by an eight-semester requirement for all students, which will finally snuff out the “unofficial fraternities.” This, of course, will require additional housing space, but the university has plenty of empty land on West and East (if necessary) to construct the additional needed beds, in addition to the net addition of beds already planned for Central. If this means that Pratt has to forgo increasing enrollment for now, they’ll survive.

The end result: a Duke that has retreated further within its walls as a protective measure to ensure that these problems don’t recur. Is that a good thing? I don’t know; I think a bit more interaction between Duke’s students and the wider community would be, on average, a good thing, even if the students who the community encounters in their neighborhoods haven’t always been the best ambassadors the university has to offer. But I think a bit of disengagement from the neighborhoods around East may be an important first step in reducing the enmity between Duke and the wider community—and if that hurts the 9th Street Merchants’ Association, so be it.

Why a self-imposed death penalty for lacrosse makes sense

In my previous post, I speculated that Duke’s men’s lacrosse program will go the way of the dodo, stating the following reasoning:

It is not particularly popular in the region; it doesn’t recruit a very ethnically diverse pool of athletes; and it loses money. Getting rid of the program would also help Duke improve its Title IX situation and save the headache of searching for a new coach.

The first three points are self-evident; I need not belabor them. The Title IX issue is worth some discussion; the NCAA has recently adopted a rule modeled on that of the SEC requiring Division I institutions to have two more womens’ sports than mens’ sports, and while the NCAA has said that cutting mens’ sports is not a desirable approach to achieving this standard, in practice mens’ sports have been cut to help achieve it.

When you combine that fact with the need to find a new coach, and the negative publicity that will dog the team for the coming years—even if the rape charges are proved beyond any shadow of a doubt to be fabrications, the other repellent behavior by team members is embarrassing enough—cutting the university’s losses may simply be the prudent course of action, not as punishment but just to save money and foster better community relations.