SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Longtime Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine was placed on administrative leave Thursday after old child molesting allegations resurfaced, just two weeks after a child sex abuse scandal rocked Penn State.
ESPN reported the accusations were made by two former ball boys.
Syracuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor said in a statement Friday morning that the school will not turn a blind eye to the allegations.
“We hold everyone in our community to high standards and we don’t tolerate illegal, abusive or unethical behavior – no matter who you are,” Cantor said in an email Friday morning to students, faculty and staff.
Bobby Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine allegedly molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis told ESPN the alleged abuse occurred at Fine’s home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four.
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Davis’ stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine molested him starting while he was in fifth or sixth grade.
Syracuse police spokesman Tom Connellan said the investigation is in its early stages. He said police were given information on Thursday but declining to identify who provided it.
Fine is in his 35th season as a Syracuse assistant.
“He has vehemently denied the allegations and should be accorded a fair opportunity to defend himself against these accusations,” Cantor said in the email.
Orange coach Jim Boeheim released a statement saying: “This matter was fully investigated by the university in 2005 and it was determined that the allegations were unfounded.
“I have known Bernie Fine for more than 40 years. I have never seen or witnessed anything to suggest that he would (have) been involved in any of the activities alleged. Had I seen or suspected anything, I would have taken action. Bernie has my full support.”
ESPN said it first investigated the accusations in 2003, but decided not to run the story because there was no independent evidence to corroborate the allegations. Recently, a second man contacted ESPN, alleging that Fine also molested him. That person said he decided to come forward after seeing the Penn State coverage.
The Post-Standard said it, too, held off in 2003 for the same reason.
A statement by Kevin Quinn, the school’s senior vice president for public affairs, said Syracuse was contacted in 2005 by “an adult male who told us that he had reported to the Syracuse City Police that he had been subjected to inappropriate contact by an associate men’s basketball coach.”
Quinn said the alleged activity took place in the 1980s and 1990s.
“We were informed by the complainant that the Syracuse City Police had declined to pursue the matter because the statute of limitations had expired,” Quinn said.
Quinn said the school conducted its own four-month investigation at that time, including interviews with people the accuser said would support his allegations, but that all of them “denied any knowledge of wrongful conduct” and that the coach also denied the allegations.
Davis said he felt bitter emotions after sex scandals emerged in the Catholic Church and, lately, with the allegations and charges against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
In the Penn State case, Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. The case cost Joe Paterno his job, and former school administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are charged with not properly alerting authorities to suspected abuse and perjury.
Davis told ESPN that Boeheim knew he was traveling on the road and sleeping in Fine’s room.
“Boeheim saw me with Bernie all the time in the hotel rooms, on road trips,” Davis said. “He’d come in, and see me laying in the bed, kind of glance at me like, `What are you doing here?’ But he wouldn’t say that. He’d just scowl. And I would look at him like, I’d be nervous. I felt embarrassed `cause I felt stupid that I’m there. I’m not supposed to be here. I know it, and Boeheim’s not stupid.”
In a telephone interview Thursday night with the AP, Boeheim said: “This kid came forward and there was no one to corroborate his story. Not one. Not one. … They said I walked into Bernie’s room on the road and saw this. I have never walked into Bernie’s room on the road. This isn’t true. This just isn’t true.”
Former Syracuse center Rony Seikaly, who worked closely with Fine throughout his college career and exchanged text messages with him just Wednesday, told the AP he refuses to believe the allegations.
“Bernie would never do such a thing,” Seikaly said in a telephone interview in Miami. “I vouch for Bernie. There is no way something like this could ever happen in my eyes. No way.”
Seikaly said he questions why the ball boy would come forward again now, adding that he believes the headlines generated by the scandal at Penn State may have been a motivating factor.
“Completely ridiculous,” Seikaly said. “Do people want a quick buck or something? I spent four years with Bernie, every single day. I know what kind of guy he is. He’s just a very helpful guy. He was the glue to Syracuse basketball. He’s still the glue 20 years later when you’re already gone. He keeps in touch with every single player. He’s that kind of guy.”