It's hard to believe we're already dealing with another child molestation case at a high-profile college athletic program, but Syracuse clearly did the right thing when it fired Bernie Fine on Sunday night. It is important to remind ourselves that from a legal perspective, Fine is innocent until proven guilty, and he is entitled to his day in court. But three accusers have now stepped forward, and we also have that stomach-turning phone conversation between one of the alleged victims and Fine's wife. A college basketball program is not a court of law, and there is simply no way Syracuse could KEEP Fine on its payroll in the face of mounting evidence.
Not surprisingly, this case is drawing comparisons to the Penn State story. (Fine's wife has been cast in the role of Mike McQueary. If she knew what she said she knew on that call, she ought to be in jail). And so the immediate question being bandied about is: Does Jim Boeheim deserve the same fate that Joe Paterno got?
Based on the information we have right now, the answer is no. Certainly Boeheim's initial comments casting aspersions on the veracity and motives of the accusers were poorly chosen. He expressed regret for making those comments in a statement he released through the school after Fine's firing. But we need to keep in mind that one of the great tragedies of child molestation is the fact that these predators are so often able to fool those who are closest to them, most notably the victims and their families. Your typical child predator is not some stranger in a trench coat who hangs around the playground. He's someone you know and trust and admire.
I can understand why Boeheim's initial instinct was to believe his lifelong friend and stand up for him as strongly as he could. The truth is many of us would have done the same. That is regrettable, but unless there is evidence that indicates Boeheim either tried to bury information about Fine's improprieties or did not handle that information properly, then I believe he should be allowed to keep his job.
Let me add one final thought. I am very concerned with the way that Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick has been handling this case since it broke on ESPN. I firmly believe that a D.A. should never speak publicly about a case, especially one as high-profile as this. Yet, Fitzpatrick has been holding press conferences and conducting an open feud with the Syracuse police department. In that way he is starting to remind me of Mike Nifong, the D.A. in the Duke lacrosse case -- and the only person in that case who served jail time. When Fitzpatrick is ready to present the public with information, there is only one appropriate forum where he should do so: in court.