Former Players ‘Dumbfounded’ by Dismissal of Cornell Men’s Lacrosse Coach

November 15, 2013 1:07 am21 comments

By AKANE OTANI

The University has dismissed Ben DeLuca ’98, head coach of men’s lacrosse, two months after the team’s upperclassmen were caught forcing freshmen to chug beer in a hazing incident.

“This was a difficult decision, but our students are our first priority and there is no doubt now that new leadership is required,” Andy Noel, director of Athletics and Physical Education, said in a statement Thursday.

Neither Noel nor other University officials were available to answer questions from the press about why DeLuca was dismissed. DeLuca was also unavailable for comment Thursday evening.

Multiple alumni and former lacrosse players said they were shocked to hear the news. J.J. Gilbane ’12, a former midfielder for the team, said the dismissal of DeLuca — who he said “lives and breathes Cornell lacrosse” — came as “a complete surprise” to both him and other alumni.

The news has left people “dumbfounded,” added Rob Pannell ’13, former captain of the lacrosse team, who told Bloomberg News the team and alumni believe hazing allegations were related to DeLuca’s dismissal.

“They had no idea this was coming and are very upset with the news,” Pannell told Bloomberg News.

(Tina Chou / Sun File Photo)

Ben DeLuca ’09, former head coach of the men’s lacrosse team, was dismissed by the University Thursday. (Tina Chou / Sun File Photo)

Just two months earlier, the University announced it had suspended the men’s lacrosse team because of reports that upperclassmen had hazed its freshmen. After investigating the incident — which allegedly involved freshmen being asked to stand together in a circle and chugging beer to the point where some of them vomited — the University cancelled the team’s fall games.

While the nationally competitive team’s season does not start until the spring, University officials maintained that the punishment was a “tough penalty.”

“What it represents is an opportunity for the coaching staff to see the freshman and younger players in four competitions, and that is input that they find very valuable,” Noel said following the fall games’ cancellation. The team was also asked to participate in anti-hazing education programs in the incident’s aftermath.

As the University launches a national search for DeLuca’s replacement, Matt Kerwick, who served as the Red’s assistant coach in its 2013 season, will work as the team’s interim head coach. Kerwick has previously coached teams at Hobart College and Jacksonville University.

Gilbane expressed his confidence that Kerwick, along with the team’s other coaches, will “keep the team focused and lead them in this difficult time.”

DeLuca has been a “fixture on the Cornell men’s lacrosse sideline for more than a decade,” Cornell Athletics says on DeLuca’s online profile, noting that the lacrosse veteran boasted a string of accomplishments dating back to his undergraduate years — including being a four-year letterwinner and serving as captain his senior year. Under DeLuca’s tenure as head coach, the men’s lacrosse team went 37-11 overall and 16-2 in the Ivy League, the Associated Press reported.

“He will always be a part of the Big Red family,” said Scott Austin ’12, former attackman for the team. “He gave a considerable part of his life to Cornell.”

The University said that while it recognizes DeLuca’s contributions to the lacrosse team, new leadership is necessary to “best serve our students and to continue our lacrosse program’s decades-long tradition of excellence.” DeLuca’s dismissal comes a little more than three years after the University named him head coach of the lacrosse program.

The men's lacrosse team, which DeLuca led for three seasons, is nationally competitive. (Oliver Kliewe / Sun Senior Photographer)

The men’s lacrosse team, which DeLuca led for three seasons, is nationally competitive. (Oliver Kliewe / Sun Senior Photographer)

The University’s actions against the lacrosse team in September marked the latest of its efforts to stamp out hazing across campus, which gained national attention after former Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother George Desdunes ’13 died in a kidnapping ritual in Spring 2011. Penning an op/ed in The New York Times that August, President David Skorton pledged to end hazing on Cornell’s campus — especially that which involved “high-risk drinking.”

Since then, the University has disciplined numerous student organizations for engaging in “misconduct that exhibits hazing and/or a threat or disregard for students’ mental health or physical health and safety.” In the 2012-13 academic year, at least nine fraternities and sororities were disciplined for hazing, according to Cornell’s anti-hazing website, which details the incidents online.

Groups that self-report incidents to the University and eliminate the practices are not subject to the “Sunshine Policy,” which necessitates public disclosure of hazing incidents.

Comments

  • Sean Bernson

    You have to be kidding me. I am all for eliminating hazing, but THAT WASN’T HAZING. This is such an embarrassing, unnecessary step that takes a meat cleaver to a problem that called for a scalpel.

    Sean Bernson ’09

    • Robespiere

      Meat cleaver? Scalpel? We needed a guillotine. And we got one. Applauses all round.

      • Sean Bernson

        An applause for what? A terrible decision that removes one of the nation’s top young coaches from a school that he has dedicated a good part of his adult life to? Also, what do you mean by “we needed a guillotine?” It sounds like you have issues with lacrosse, or athletics in general.

  • Realist

    I don’t agree with hazing at all, but I think this is a bit too extreme. The coach is not a babysitter – he can’t be everywhere watching the players’ every move. He can’t prevent upperclassmen from hazing the younger players.

    It would be a different story if he actively encouraged the hazing activities. But so far no evidence suggests that.

  • Cornell Greek Guy

    When David Skorton is through, our beloved Cornell will be known worldwide for three things: hazing, an island in the East River, and hazing. When will the trustees wake up to the fact that it isn’t always true that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

    • Robespiere

      Do you know what the Turks did to a Greek like you?

      • Cornell Greek Guy

        You’re very clever.

  • August Fallons

    George Desdunes passed in a fraternity ritual, not a hazing ritual. How long until the Sun stops defining his death as a hazing incident. I don’t like taking away from the story, but it’s upsetting seeing the University’s definition of hazing being misused,

    • Robespiere

      Your head is so far up your own ass.

  • Cornell Greek Guy

    The managing editor of the Daily Sun should know the difference between “the upperclassmen were caught forcing” freshmen to drink and “freshmen being asked” to drink. What is it? Forced or asked? Or does the author suggest, as the university does, that there’s no difference when drinking is involved.

    Does a student paper really want to take the position that 3000 members of the student body lack the capacity for free will and consent? Presumptively incapable to make up their own minds whether to drink, but fully capable of consenting to play a dangerous sport, enroll in ROTC, vote or choose classes?

    • Robespiere

      Somebody once said: “It depends what you mean by the word “is”.”

      That person’s IQ is much higher than yours. So don’t try to be like him. You are just some dumb schmuck who got into Cornell by accident.

      • Student

        You really sound like an elitist prick Robespiere – every single person who has read your comments probably wishes you had nothing to do with this University. I know your just so much smarter than everybody else, but allowing people to voice their opinions would do you some good. You probably got into Cornell by accident, and I hope the school does not accept other people with your attitude.

      • jim

        “Dumb” is when someone picks a historical figure for a screen name and doesn’t bother to learn how to spell it correctly.

      • Cornell Greek Guy

        You’re sad and pathetic. How’s dorm life workin’ for ya?

        • iron age

          Showing that inclination to attack again. You cannot help it. Go ahead. Show all of it, caveman.

  • Patrick Dutton

    Our athletic director, Andy Noel, has made a mockery of one of the finest lacrosse programs in the country. Mr. Noel has been working towards firing Coach DeLuca for the last 18 months and he has finally convinced his superiors Dr. Susan Murphy and President David Skorton this is the right move. As a former Cornell Lacrosse coach, proud Cornell alum, and Cornell Athletic Hall of Famer, I can undoubtedly say this is a terrible move. Moreso this firing is completely unjust!

    Dr. Murphy…..President Skorton…………you’ve been duped by your athletic director’s ego and you’ve allowed Andy Noel to bring shame to this once proud program.

    Mr. Noel said it best in his press release when he stated “new leadership is required to best serve our students and to continue our lacrosse program’s decades-long tradition of excellence.” I hope Dr. Murphy and President Skorton follow this advice and FIRE ANDY NOEL. That is the change that will best serve our students and enable our program to blossom.

    As recent Cornell Alum Rob Pannell has said “there is no better man for the job” I hope Cornell REINSTATES COACH BEN DELUCA.

    • Timothy DeBlois

      Well said Pat. I think you speak for a lot of us former players.

      • Sean Greenhalgh

        I’m with Pat, terrible move, embarrassment to us alum and the program in general.

      • Patrick Dutton

        Upon his firing, I am told that Coach DeLuca wasn’t allowed to address his players or even go back into his office to collect his personal belongings. He was essentially escorted off campus.

        The level of disrespect here is unbelievable and truly incomprehensible. Andy Noel is not a person that should be representing Cornell University.

        • Cornell Greek Guy

          I fully get your anger towards Noel. But Skorton is calling all the shots in his drive to be named the United Nations Anti-Hazing Commissioner.

  • Student

    Cornell has now shown that the administration does not care about defending students or faculty. They are obsessed with national reputation and it is actions like these that put this reputation in jeopardy. I know many many alumni of the last year or two, who have absolutely no intention of giving a dime to this school when they are older and successful, and I agree with them wholeheartedly.