Abolish the NCAA: The Duke case

By Christopher B. Daly 

I’m just catching up with a fine review by Caitlin Flanagan in the NYTimes Sunday Book Review about what sounds like a fine book by William D. Cohan about the fiasco that was the Duke lacrosse “scandal” of 2006. Without re-hashing the accusations or the ensuing rush to judgment, the issue raises the question:

What educational role does intercollegiate lacrosse play at Duke University?

I think the answer is pretty obvious.

From Flanagan’s book review:

It has become possible, these past several decades, to think of Duke as consisting of a professional basketball team to which, bizarrely, a research university has attached itself. But it is the “non­revenue” sports at Duke — and the school’s relentless, aggressive and very expensive campaign to build them into powerhouse brands — that have most radically changed the tenor of that campus. The strange centrality of the athletic program in the life of an academically excellent institution, and the many unintended consequences this situation has wrought, is the subject of William D. Cohan’s “The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities.” The book is at once a masterwork of reporting and a devastating critique of a university that has lost its way.

. . . The ill-advised party that would end in the rape charges took place at the beginning of spring break, when the team was required to stay in Durham to practice. This forgoing of their vacation week had resulted in a new tradition in which players spent their off-hours partying, hard, in a kind of alternative spring break. At the beginning of the week, the coach came to practice with some $10,000 in cash, which he passed out to the players in fat wads. The absurd amount was ostensibly for meals, although many of the players were sons of wealthy families and could afford to buy their own chow. By that night, the cash was being spent on all the ancient vices: booze, gambling and the hiring of desperately poor women for sexual entertainment. The players chose to do all of these things, of course, and it was their responsibility to deal with any disastrous outcome that might result from them. But the way in which that huge pile of cash played its role in the events hangs over “The Price of Silence.” It raises the most disturbing questions about how Duke envisions its student-athletes, what it expects from them, how it is willing to accommodate them — and how it will drop them, completely, when they are no longer of use to the university. . .

Bernard Thomas/Herald Sun via Polaris

Bernard Thomas/Herald Sun via Polaris


Filed under education, NCAA

2 responses to “Abolish the NCAA: The Duke case

  1. David

    Any high school or college kid will tell you that the “lax bro’s” are the most smug and obnoxious jocks on campus. What is unique about lacrosse is that it is by far the most preppy sport–of the 40+ Duke players only 1 was black. Because it is not played at most public high schools, it is the best ticket for rich kids to get Ivy jock admissions preferences without having to compete against more athletic, less affluent kids.

    Flanagan’s review, sadly, is shallow–she fails to mention the prior books on the case, blinding her to some of Cohan’s blatant misstatements and slipshod research, as covered here: http://www.durhamwonderland.blogspot.com/

    Cohan, while making good points about jock privilege, remarkably comes to the defense of the prosecutor, despite this being a classic example of how politically ambitious prosecutors ignore exculpatory evidence and prosecute the innocent.

    The Duke case is the ideal subject for journalism classes, as it features deplorable conduct by students, faculty and administrators at one of the nation’s highest rated universities; a prosecutor; and reporters at the New York Times and other media in a context laden with race, sex, class, political correctness, politics and political correctness.


  2. Cohan’s book is a patchwork of poor research and brazen innuendo, unsubstantiated by facts.(His book has no source notes, no footnotes, and no bibliography.) And by relying on contemporary media accounts, he simply breathes new life into their misconceptions and distortions. (In short, this is not a work of well-researched history.)

    Example: “the coach came to practice with some $10,000 in cash, which he passed out to the players in fat wads.”

    That was a per diem, which worked out to about $35 a day or so, to be used
    because they had to buy their own meals during that period.

    As for the description of the party in the book, it is pure prosecution fantasy;
    a stereotype right from “Animal House”, but contrary to fact.

    But the stereotype narrative is so much fun, it seems it’s impossible for
    those who really, really want to believe it was true, to let it go.


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