SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine dismissed as "patently false" allegations that he molested two former ball boys for years, and the university chancellor vowed Friday to "do everything in our power to find the truth."
The school immediately placed Fine on administrative leave "in light of the new allegations" that surfaced Thursday, just two weeks after the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal, and pending an investigation by the Syracuse City Police.
Fine, in his 35th season as an assistant to coach Jim Boeheim on the Syracuse bench, asked for a quick review and expressed confidence he would be vindicated.
"Sadly, we live in an allegation-based society and an internet age where in a matter of minutes one's lifelong reputation can be severely damaged," Fine said in a statement released by one of his attorneys. "I am confident that, as in the past, a review of these allegations will be discredited and restore my reputation. I hope the latest review of these allegations will be conducted expeditiously."
Fine thanked Chancellor Nancy Cantor for her statement that "I should be accorded a fair opportunity to defend myself" and added: "I fully intend to do so. There should never be a rush to judgment when someone's personal integrity and career are on the line."
Cantor vowed that the school will not turn a blind eye to the allegations made by two stepbrothers to ESPN.
"Let me be clear. We know that many question whether or not a university in today's world can shine a harsh light on its athletics programs," Cantor said in an email to students, faculty and staff. "We are aware that many wonder if university administrations are willing to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing that may disrupt a successful sports program. I can assure you I am not, and my fellow administrators are not. We hold everyone in our community to high standards and we don't tolerate illegal, abusive or unethical behavior — no matter who you are."
She concluded: "At this time, all we really know is that a terrible tragedy is unfolding for both the accuser and the accused. I want you to know that we will do everything in our power to find the truth, and — if and when we do find it — to let you know what we have found."
Both of Fine's accusers are now adults. Bobby Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine 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 that the abuse occurred at Fine's home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four, when the Orange lost to Indiana in the national championship game.
Davis' stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine molested him starting when he was in fifth or sixth grade.
"The dilemma in any situation like this, of course, is that — without corroborating facts, witnesses or confessions — one must avoid an unfair rush to judgment," Cantor said. "We have all seen terrible injustices done to the innocent accused of heinous crimes. And we've all seen situations where the guilty avoid justice."
The chancellor said a man contacted the school in 2005 about allegations he had previously reported to police of abuse in the 1980s and 1990s, but that police had declined to pursue it because the statute of limitations had expired.
She said the school conducted its own four-month investigation at that time, including interviews with people the accuser said would support his allegations, but all of them "denied any knowledge of wrongful conduct" by Fine.
Syracuse police spokesman Tom Connellan says the university did not contact police in 2005.
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