The NCAA has granted Duke's request for an extra year of eligibility for its men's lacrosse players following rape allegations that led to the cancellation of much of last season.
The decision affects 33 players who were not seniors during the 2006 season, and it grants them a fifth year of eligibility regardless of whether they play at Duke or another school. The announcement Wednesday came just two days after the Blue Devils lost to Johns Hopkins by a goal in the NCAA championship game.
"These individuals were involved in an unusual circumstance that we believe warrants providing them the opportunity to complete their four years of competition," said Jennifer Strawley, NCAA director of student-athlete reinstatement and membership services.
Duke played just eight games last year before the university canceled what was left of the season as police investigated allegations a woman was raped at a team party. Three players were later indicted, but the accusations were eventually debunked by North Carolina's top prosecutor, who called the trio "innocent" victims of a "tragic rush to accuse."
This year's seniors would be eligible next season by pursuing graduate-level course work. Coach John Danowski said he planned to talk with them in the coming weeks to see if any would be interested in staying.
"Sometimes four years runs its course and they might want to move on and forward with their lives," said Danowski, whose son, Matt, was a senior All-American for Duke. "Certainly we'll give them their space. Everybody assumed this was a long shot and we didn't allow them to think about that because we were also playing for the national championship.
"For these (seniors) ... whatever they want is fine with me."
The NCAA said it considered several factors, including unanimous support from the presidents of the Atlantic Coast Conference universities, according to a news release.
Also on Wednesday, a Duke alumnus bought a full-page ad in USA Today to show support for the program. The headline on the ad reads, "For a team very few people stood by, how about a standing ovation?"
Duke Reaction To NCAA's Ruling
Joe Alleva, Director of Athletics
"We're gratified by this decision from the NCAA, and feel it is a fair resolution to our situation. This represents the NCAA's recognition of how extraordinary the circumstances surrounding our team were last spring."
John Danowski, Head coach
"The opportunity for the young men in our program to continue their education is of great benefit," said Duke head coach John Danowski. "The guys will take an individual look at their options, and we'll certainly help them in that decision-making process."
Tony McDevitt, Senior defenseman
?When we think back to our junior season and losing that year and not having the opportunity to go and compete for a national championship and not being able to play the sport that we love, that hurt just as much as us losing the national championship game this Monday. It is well deserved and we?re happy that the NCAA made the right decision. Now, it?s just about weighing our options and seeing what?s out there.
?Any time you can get a chance to enhance your educational resume, especially at a school like Duke, you have to think about it. Everybody in the locker room comes to Duke because it is Duke, where you can get an unbelievable education. Then, you?re going to play lacrosse at a wonderful institution. For me, it?s still about education and if I have the chance to get a master?s degree from Duke University, that?s a tough thing to turn down.
?It?s going to be a unique situation but with everything we?ve been through, we?ve adapted to adjusting on the fly. We had a motto for the last year and a half and it was, adjust, adapt and overcome. Whatever comes our way, we?re going to continue to adjust, adapt and overcome.?