Syracuse’s Handling of Accusations Against Bernie Fine Includes Troubling Elements of Penn State Scandal

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Syracuse's Handling of Accusations Against Bernie Fine Includes Troubling Elements of Penn State ScandalSay this much for Syracuse University: At least people in charge there told somebody when a person came forward to accuse an assistant coach of sexual misconduct.

That's a step up from Pennsylvania State University, where it appears nobody passed the information to the proper authorties when victims began to accuse former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexually abusing several young boys.

Syracuse has played up that difference since it was disclosed that associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine had been accused of sexual misconduct against a former ballboy. Unlike at Penn State, there is no indication Orange head coach Jim Boeheim had any knowledge of the allegations.

"I'm not Joe Paterno," Boeheim declared Friday, with the unsaid addendum to that statement being "We are… not Penn State."

Fine has categorically denied all the allegations, and Boeheim bluntly called Bobby Davis, 39, a liar for claiming Fine sexually molested him for more than 15 years, starting when Davis was 12 or 13 years old.

Whether Davis' accusations are truthful is irrelevant, though, based on how Syracuse says it handled the case.

When Davis reported the matter to the Syracuse Police Department in 2002, he was told no charges could be pursued because the statute of limitations had passed, The Post-Standard reports. Davis reportedly confronted university officials in 2005, who conducted their own investigation but did not contact the district attorney.

Here's where, as with Penn State, this affair crosses from the legal to the moral. Yes, the statute of limitations had passed. Yes, the university's internal investigation, conducted by a private law firm on behalf of the university, found no evidence of the alleged crimes. Yes, the university didn't call the police because it believed Davis already had. Yes, they appear to have thought Davis was a wingnut.

"Simply put," Fine said in a statement, "these allegations are patently false in every aspect."

Every time we hear the term "internal investigation" we should all roll our eyes. It's true that universities have expensive lawyers and many have sizable police forces, and while that's fine for defending the institution from litigation, breaking up rowdy frat parties or chasing down a pickpocket, it should be the actual state authorities who do the investigating. We saw what happened during the financial crisis with the credit rating agencies, who are paid by the corporations they grade. Nobody can ever sufficiently vet the guys who write their paychecks.

The part that might be most dim-witted — or offensive, to put it another way — is the statute of limitations issue.

The alleged crimes committed against Davis may have occurred too long ago to be brought to trial, but that didn't release the police or the university from the responsibility of contacting the D.A.'s office. How do we know this?

Because the district attorney said so Friday.

"I want to know who knew what, what they knew, what they did about it and what they didn't do about it," Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told The Post-Standard. "We worked a long time to get people to follow the proper protocols when it comes to abused children. Telling someone to hit the road because of the statute of limitations is not what should happen."

Even if no charges could be pursued because the statute of limitations had passed, Fitzpatrick told The Post-Standard that authorities would want to know if the suspect was in a position to victimize other children. By failing to properly report an alleged crime, officials may have enabled an alleged predator to pursue new victims.

This all sounds kind of familiar to those who have closely followed the Penn State case, doesn't it?

Syracuse and Penn State are not perfect twins. In Fine's case, the greatest failure appears to fall on the police, rather than the athletic department and university leadership. And so far this appears to involve just one accuser (although Davis' stepbrother also came forward Thursday on ESPN), not the more than eight who have accused Sandusky.

As in Happy Valley, though, Syracuse appears to have made up its own rules. Those rules — even if they are an improvement over Penn State's approach — clearly need some work.

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