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Committee: Lax team can continue, with monitoring

DURHAM, N.C. -- A Duke University committee recommended
Monday that the school's lacrosse team resume play next season, but it
said the team needed strict monitoring because of a history of
problems tied to alcohol.

"Although the pattern of misconduct in recent years by the
lacrosse team is alarming, the evidence reviewed ... does not
warrant suspension of the sport," a committee of seven faculty
members wrote in a report.

Duke canceled the highly ranked lacrosse team's season last
month, following allegations that a black woman was raped and
beaten by three white men at a team party where she had been hired
to dance.

A grand jury has indicted two players on charges of rape,
kidnapping and sexual assault, and District Attorney Mike Nifong
has said he hopes to charge a third person.

The report released Monday night did not consider the rape
allegations, but instead focused on the behavior of the team during
the past five years. It found that while the team performed well
academically and athletically, "a large number of the members of
the team have been socially irresponsible when under the influence
of alcohol."

"We looked closely but found no compelling evidence to support
claims that these players are racist or have a record of sexual
violence," said Duke law professor James E. Coleman Jr., who led
the committee.

The rape allegations led Duke to accept the resignation of coach
Mike Pressler and begin several internal investigations, including
the examination of the lacrosse program.

The two players charged -- sophomores Reade Seligmann of Essex
Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty of Garden City, N.Y. -- have been
released on $400,000 bond and are scheduled to appear in court May
15.

A third of current team members have been cited in recent years
for offenses ranging from underage drinking to public urination.
Neither Seligmann nor Finnerty was among them, although Finnerty
was charged last year with simple assault in Washington, D.C.

The report was released the same day Seligmann's attorney, Kirk
Osborn, demanded Nifong's removal from the case, accusing him of
using it to help his election prospects. Nifong faces a primary
election Tuesday that could decide whether he remains in office.

"They don't want to go up against me," Nifong said when asked
outside court Monday about the defense request for his removal. He
has denied any political motivation behind his investigation.

In a statement released with the report, Duke President Richard
Brodhead did not offer an opinion on the panel's recommendation,
saying only that the report will "give us useful information as we
consider the future of men's lacrosse at Duke in the weeks ahead."

"The picture that emerges is complex, with players praised as
respectful to employees who worked near the team, and criticized
for their inability to learn from multiple citations for
inappropriate behavior," Brodhead said.

The report concluded that the disciplinary record of the
lacrosse team was "noticeably worse" than other athletic teams at
Duke, with a larger percentage of lacrosse players involved in
alcohol-related incidents.

But, Coleman said, "the conduct of lacrosse players did not
differ from the misconduct of other Duke students who drink too
much and unfairly impose upon their neighbors."

The report also found that university administrators learned of
the team's "extensive disciplinary record" in 2004, but except
for coach Mike Pressler and the school's dean of judicial affairs,
no one else at Duke "appears to have treated the lacrosse team's
disciplinary record as a matter of serious concern."

The coach's attorney said he would have no comment on the
report.

Defense attorneys have strongly proclaimed the players'
innocence, often citing DNA tests they said failed to connect the
accuser and the lacrosse players tested.

Also Monday, Osborn asked the court to throw out the photo
identifications made by the accuser, calling the police photo
lineup "unnecessarily suggestive" because she was shown only
photos of lacrosse players. He alleged that Nifong was improperly
involved in the lineup and led police to violate their own
policies.

Osborn's filings also included evidence and affidavits
supporting a timeline the defense says proves Seligmann was not at
the party long enough to have committed the assault described by
the woman.

In recent days, the defense has also attacked the accuser's
credibility.

Osborn's motions mentioned a 1996 rape allegation made by the
woman, which did not lead to any charges, and a report she made in
1998, in which she accused her then-husband of threatening to kill
her. Osborn's motion said she later failed to appear at a court
hearing on the complaint, which was dismissed.