Bernie Fine – a sad ending to a sad life
These are the worst of times for college sports – a black eye on the sports industry.
The life and times of now former Syracuse University Associate Head Basketball Coach Bernie Fine came to an abrupt end Sunday evening when the university fired Fine. The 65-year-old Fine was in his 36th season at his alma mater, the longest active streak of consecutive seasons at one school among assistant coaches in Division I.
Fine joined the Orange basketball program in 1963 as a student manager. That team included basketball Hall of Famers Jim Boeheim and current Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. Fine joined Boeheim with the Orange in 1976 when Boeheim was hired as Head Coach.
When ESPN first broke the story ten days ago, Boeheim staunchly defended Fine, suggesting Mike Davis was lying and in search of a financial payoff. Sunday, ESPN released a tape Davis secretly made of himself and Fine’s wife Laurie talking about the sexual abuses.
Laurie Fine, who admitted to having a sexual affair with Davis at the same time her husband allegedly abused him, confirmed what Davis had said about his relationship with her husband.
"The allegations that have come forth today are disturbing and deeply troubling," Boeheim said in a statement released by the school. "I am personally very shocked because I have never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged. I believe the university took the appropriate step tonight. What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated and that anyone with information be supported to come forward so that the truth can be found. I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse."
What Jim Boeheim knew or didn’t know remains a mystery, but his unwavering support of Fine ten days ago now appears to be a major mistake for one of America’s most important college basketball coaches.
If Boeheim knew nothing about the allegations, one has to question how close the two men really were. Fine’s firing is a blow to Boeheim personally and professionally and while he may not be painted with the same brush that ruined Joe Paterno’s career, it will be tough for Boeheim, whose Orange are among the best in college basketball this year, not to be hurt by the aftermath.
Syracuse University chancellor Nancy Cantor initially stood by Fine but now says there is no place at Syracuse for anyone like Bernie Fine.
“Tonight, in the wake of troubling new allegations that emerged in the media today, I am writing to let you know that Bernie Fine's employment at the University has been terminated effective immediately.
“Frankly, the events of the past week have shaken us all. The taped phone call that ESPN revealed today was not provided to the university by Mr. Davis during the 2005 investigation by our legal counsel. Like the media review of the case a few years earlier, no other witnesses came forward during the university investigation, and those who felt they knew Bernie best could not imagine what has unfolded.
“Since I last wrote to you, we have been cooperating fully with the authorities. On Friday, November 18th, as the District Attorney has noted, we turned over to his office the results of our 2005 months-long investigation. Also on November 18, our Board of Trustees retained an independent law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, to review our procedures in responding to the initial allegations when they first came to the University's attention. I fully supported that decision and it is vital that we examine our protocols and actions in dealing with such serious allegations. We need to learn all we can from this terrible lesson.
“All of us have the responsibility, individually and collectively, to ensure that Syracuse University remains a safe place for every campus community member and everyone with whom we interact on a daily basis on campus or in the community as part of our learning, scholarship, or work. We do not tolerate abuse. If anything good comes out of this tragedy, it will be that this basic principle is reinforced.”
In the days immediately following ESPN’s initial report, many former Orange players stood by Fine.
“I’m sure this is just the beginning,” said Danny Schayes, who played for the Orangemen in the late’70s and early ’80s, from his home in Arizona Sunday evening.
“I’m afraid, unfortunately, that the ball is just starting to roll down the hill.”
“The whole thing is a mess, no matter how you slice it,” said Schayes, one of Fine’s prized pupils. “For those of us who consider themselves friends of Bernie, the best case is a horrible case. There’s no good case here.
“Whether it comes to charges or no charges, jail or no jail, life is over for him.
That tape was damning testimony. The kid says Bernie was sleeping with him while he was sleeping with the wife. I mean, it couldn’t be more Jerry Springerish.”
The NCAA has rules and regulations when it comes to dealing with illegal payments to players, but doesn’t have a firm set of rules relating to sexual abuse allegations.
The damage to the image of the NCAA and the school’s directly involved is incalculable, but the NCAA needs to react quickly.
The pages of Sports Business News demanded Joe Paterno be held accountable. Penn State did what was right when they fired Joe Paterno. There is direct evidence that the Penn State football program covered-up the Jerry Sandusky child abuse allegations for many years.
If Jim Boeheim knew anything about the Bernie Fine accusations then he must pay the same price as Joe Paterno. Should Boeheim be fired? That is a question well worth asking. Fine was Boeheim’s associate head coach, his right hand for 35 years.
If Boeheim didn’t know then he either wasn’t paying enough attention to what his staff was doing away from the basketball court at Syracuse that bares his namesake.
Penn State was very slow to react to the Sandusky allegations – a classic case of terrible crisis communications. When ESPN first broke the Fine story ten days ago Syracuse suspended Fine immediately, but were quick to point out the university had dismissed the Davis story in 2002 and 2003.
The sense of betrayal Jim Boeheim must feel has to be near debilitating. Ten days ago Boeheim talked about a friendship that had spanned 50 years. The sense of humiliation Jim Boeheim must be feeling has to be terrible.
Faced with two terrible sex abuse scandals, the NCAA needs to enact a set of rules that help member schools deal with the issues of child abuse.
NCAA coaches are powerful figures in their respective communities, leaders who are trusted, respected and all too often revered. To take advantage of that standing in the community to abuse a child is reprehensible and must be handled with the severest of possible sanctions.
The rules can’t be tough enough when it comes to dealing with the allegations that have been leveled against Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine. The NCAA has its work cut of for it.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom