Syracuse University fired assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine amid allegations that he sexually molested boys, rocking the multi-million dollar world of collegiate sports with more questions of sexual abuse and oversight, the university said on Sunday.
“At the direction of Chancellor (Nancy) Cantor, Bernie Fine’s employment with Syracuse University has been terminated, effective immediately,” the school said on its website.
Fine, who had been on administrative leave since Nov. 17, is the target of a grand jury investigation into accusations that years ago he molested a former ball boy, Bobby Davis, now 39, and at least one other boy, his stepbrother Mike Lang, now 45, when they were juveniles.
Fine’s boss for the past 35 years, Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, said on Sunday he supported the firing, withdrawing support he’d extended Fine when the allegations resurfaced this month. The university first investigated and dismissed the allegations for lack of corroboration in 2005.
“I have never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged,” Boeheim said in a statement posted on the Syracuse Orange sports Facebook page.
“What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated,” he said. ” ... I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse,” he said.
The firing came hours after ESPN reported it had an audio recording of a 2002 conversation between Davis and Fine’s wife Laurie in which she said she knew about the alleged molestation but felt unable to stop it.
Neither the tape nor any additional witnesses surfaced when the university conducted its own 2005 investigation into Davis’ allegations, Cantor said in a statement on the school website.
Now that a new probe is underway by Syracuse Police, the school has hired an independent law firm to “review our procedures in responding to the initial allegations. ... We need to learn all we can from this terrible lesson,” she said.
Fine has called the accusations against him “patently false in every aspect.”
The firing was the latest jolt to major college athletics already reeling from allegations of abuse and possible cover-ups at football powerhouse Penn State, where a former assistant coach faces 40 sexual abuse charges.
Those accusations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, charged by a grand jury with sexually abusing eight young boys, took down legendary football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier.
They were fired for failing to tell police about the allegations of abuse once they learned of it years earlier. Two other Penn State officials were charged with perjury.
Syracuse is the third major American university to disclose alleged abuse since the school year began. South Carolina military college The Citadel also said it had failed to tell police about a student accused in 2007 of inappropriate behavior with children at a college summer camp.
In Syracuse, police have said they opened an investigation into Fine when Davis’ stepbrother came forward with his own allegations. The grand jury is also investigating those allegations but no criminal charges have been filed.
Fine’s lawyer, speaking on Sunday before he was fired, said his client would no longer speak publicly about the case.
“Mr. Fine will not comment on newspaper stories beyond his initial statement,” attorney Karl Sleight said in a statement in response to allegations by a third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, made on Facebook and carried in media reports on Sunday.
“Mr. Fine remains hopeful of a credible and expeditious review of the relevant issues by law enforcement authorities,” Sleight said. Attempts to reach Syracuse police and city officials on Sunday for further comment were unsuccessful.
Syracuse’s basketball team is currently undefeated and the university in upstate New York is widely heralded as having one of the top college basketball programs in the country. (Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Bohan)