JOHN KEKIS,AP Sports Writer
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — After his Syracuse Orange had run away to another victory, men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim turned his focus to a far more important matter.
Boeheim said Tuesday that “what happened on my watch” will be revealed once police complete their inquiry into child molestation accusations against his former longtime assistant.
“I never worried about my job status in 36 years,” Boeheim said at his first postgame news conference since Bernie Fine was fired Sunday. “I do my job. What happened on my watch, we will see. When the investigation is done, we will find out what happened on my watch.”
Advocates for sex abuse victims said Boeheim should resign or be fired for adamantly defending Fine and verbally disparaging two former Syracuse ball boys, two of the three men who have accused Fine of molesting them.
“Based on what I knew at that time, there were three investigations and nothing was corroborated,” Boeheim said. “That was the basis for me saying what I said. I said what I knew at the time.”
He said he didn’t regret backing Fine when the allegations were first made public.
“I’ve been with him for 36 years, known him for 48 years, went to school with him,” Boeheim said. “I think you owe a debt of allegiance and gratitude for what he did for the program. That’s what my reaction was. So be it.”
Fine has denied the allegations.
Boeheim received a standing ovation when he walked onto the court that bears his name for the game against Eastern Michigan that the Orange won, 84-48.
Boeheim said there’s a misconception that he’s bigger than the program because of his long tenure and great success. He has 863 career wins, fifth all-time in Division I.
“If I was gone today, this program would be fine. This program would do great,” he said. “Ten years from now, this program will do great. This is not Jim Boeheim. This is Syracuse University’s basketball program. It is not about me. It never has been about me.”
Asked to comment on Boeheim’s status earlier Tuesday, Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor said:
“Coach Boeheim is our coach. … We’re very pleased with what he said Sunday night, and we stand by it.”
After initially saying Fine’s first two accusers were lying to make money in the wake of the Penn State University child sex abuse scandal, Boeheim backed off those comments Sunday.
“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,” Boeheim said in a statement. “I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse.”
One of the accusers, Bobby Davis, first contacted Syracuse police in 2002 regarding Fine, but there was no investigation because the statute of limitations had passed. Kevin Quinn, a Syracuse spokesman, said police did not inform the university of Davis’ allegations then.
On Tuesday, Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler said Dennis DuVal, a former SU basketball player who was police chief in 2002, knew of the allegations against Fine.
Fowler said DuVal, who played for the Orange from 1972-74, was aware of Davis’ accusations in 2002 that Fine sexually abused him.
Because Davis said the abuse stopped 12 years earlier, Syracuse Det. Doug Fox told him the statute of limitations had passed, meaning an arrest was not possible. Fox advised his supervisor in the abused persons unit, but didn’t file a formal report. The detective is still with the department, but not in the same unit.
A phone message left with DuVal was not immediately returned.
Fowler said Syracuse police will change their procedures moving forward.
“I was not the chief in 2002 and I cannot change the procedures in place at that time or the way this matter was then handled,” Fowler said in the statement. “But what I can and will do as chief today is ensure that moving forward all reports of sexual abuse are formally documented.”
On Nov. 17, Davis’ allegations resurfaced.
Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis said the 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 began molesting him while he was in the fifth or sixth grade.
Boeheim said during his news conference that ball boys have never traveled with the team.
A third accuser went public Sunday. Zach Tomaselli, who faces sexual assault charges in Maine involving a 14-year-old boy, said he told police last week that Fine molested him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel room.
Now the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Secret Service have taken the lead in the Fine investigation.
Also Sunday, ESPN played an audiotape, obtained and recorded by Davis, of an October 2002 telephone conversation between him and Fine’s wife, Laurie. ESPN said it hired a voice recognition expert to verify the voice on the tape and the network said it was determined to be that of Laurie Fine.
During the call to the woman, Davis repeatedly asks her what she knew about the alleged molestation and she says she knew “everything that went on.”
On Tuesday night, Boeheim began his postgame news conference by reading a statement:
“It’s hard to put everything into words,” Boeheim said. “I thought a lot today about different things. I’m saddened in many ways by what’s unfolded, and I’m looking forward to a time when we can talk and learn from what has happened.
“There is an important investigation going on, which I fully support, and I can’t add anything to that by speaking more about that now,” he said. “The investigation and all that we can learn from it is what is important.”
Before the game, some fans offered their support for Boeheim.
“I feel sorry that he stuck up for a friend,” said 40-year-old Mike Wong of Syracuse. “He was just sticking up for Bernie. He didn’t understand the situation. I think the chancellor did the right thing.”
“It’s sad,” added 29-year-old Michael Knowles of Syracuse. “We’ve all stuck up for a friend and then realized we shouldn’t have. He (Boeheim) didn’t do anything wrong.”
Not everyone agrees.
In the last home game against Colgate 10 days ago, Fine’s customary seat was left vacant, and players tapped it as a symbolic gesture in support of Fine. On Tuesday night, there was no empty seat.
And the Rev. Robert Hoatson, president of Road to Recovery, a group that supports victims of sexual abuse, was pushing for another empty seat.
“We want to keep saying that Jim Boeheim should resign or be fired,” Hoatson said.
AP Writers Michael Hill in Syracuse and Michael Gormley in Albany contributed to this report.
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