After Penn State scandal, Fine allegations draw national attention

Bernie Fine /

Just two weeks after Penn State was rocked by a child sex-abuse scandal, Syracuse police said they were investigating child molesting allegations against a longtime assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University. Syracuse University issued an official statement Thursday night, saying, "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." The school placed Bernie Fine on administrative leave Thursday night "in light of the new allegations and the Syracuse City Police investigation." ESPN said the accusations were made by two former ball boys. (Watch the interview) Syracuse University's Chancellor Nancy Cantor responded with a message to the communtiy Friday morning. The Chancellor says, "Following the terrible news that came out of Penn State in the last several weeks, this is clearly distressing to all of us in the Syracuse University community. The news is already being covered widely by the media." The Chancellor's message continues to say, "Let me be clear. We know that many question whether or not a university in today TMs world can shine a harsh light on its athletics programs. 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 TMt tolerate illegal, abusive or unethical behavior"no matter who you are." Two former Syracuse University basketball players are standing up for Bernie Fine with posts to their Facebook walls.

Derrick Coleman, SU forward from 1986 to 1990, wrote on his Facebook wall, To all my FB people and my SU family, I've been knowing Berine Fine since I was 14, going to SU basketball camps. I know how it feel's to be accused of something and everybody is speculating I support coach fine 100% in my time at SU and still to this day I've never seen any indication of what he's being accused of. I bleed orange and we are SU|

Ryan Blackwell, SU player from1997 to 2000, posted, How are you 26 years old and still getting your ~penis yanked on TM by a grown man and not doing anything about it yourself?!?! It is old news. Bernie was cleared years ago. I guess Bobby figured this was the perfect time to try and get paid with the whole Sandusky/Penn State situation happening."

Bobby Davis, now 39, told the ESPN network 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.

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 inquiry is in its early stages.

"It's information that came to us today," Connellan said, declining to identify who provided it. Fine is in his 35th season as an assistant to coach Jim Boeheim.

Syracuse, meanwhile, said it had conducted its own investigation years ago and couldn't find witnesses to corroborate the allegations.

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.

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."

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 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. 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."

The allegations against Fine are shocking to Syracuse University students. Catherine Mehta, a student at Syracuse University, said, "I just hope it's not true. But I hope that with these rumors, that the investigation is taken seriously."

"All of a sudden SU is in a very similar situation. I'm just wondering, my first reaction, was did anybody know about this? How long has this been going on?" asked Alessondra Parra.

The Chancellor's message concludes by saying, "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."

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report)