or What Lacrosse Journalism?

By Michael Spinner

One of the great frustrations of being a lacrosse journalist is that covering lacrosse is the complete antithesis of covering the rest of the world. In the real world, when something of a controversial nature arises, the media flocks to the site and digs around until the "real" story surfaces. This is not necessarily a good thing and in many instances is pretty bad, but in the real world, a good story is hard to hide. In the lacrosse world, it is completely different. When something truly juicy surfaces, most people in this field head for the hills.

This summer was a slow news season, right. The Diane Geppi-Aikens story was a real headliner all year. When she passed this summer, it was obviously very big and very bad news. The domination of the United States Men's and Women's teams at the U-19 World Championships might have been the second biggest story to hit the lacrosse news this summer. Annual coaching turnover may have ranked third. But the transfers of Duke University starters Matt Monfett and Matt Rewkowski are huge news even if no one really covered it. The two combined for 80 points as sophomores in 2003 and were the two leading scorers returning to the Blue Devils for 2004. As of press time, Rewkowski will play for Johns Hopkins next season while Monfett has not made a final decision-although the rumors are certainly flying.

Transfers happen all of the time in college sports, but I can barely remember the last time two players of this stature transferred from a top-15 Division I program like Duke at the same time. We're not talking about two solid players or two go-to guys, Monfett and Rewkowski were supposed to be two major forces behind a National Championship run for Duke during the next two years. As High School seniors in 2001, the two were the talk of the Long Island High School Lacrosse playoffs as both simply put on a show throughout the tourney. Many thought that Duke had landed the best recruiting class in the country because of these two.

So seeing two players with such superstar potential leave just as they were to become the focal points of their team's offense, raises some eyebrows. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun Rewkowski, the Long Island product, made it clear that a majority of his decision was based on differences with the philosophy and style of Duke Head Coach Mike Pressler. In the college basketball world, such criticism creates back-page headlines, but in the college lacrosse world it was only a small blurb in one of the few daily newspapers that covers college lacrosse.

The point that no one wants to have to make is that there are obvious troubles in the Duke University program that caused their two best offensive players to leave one of the top academic institutions in the country to attend elsewhere. Add to the mix that Duke has consistently underachieved despite regularly gaining one of the top-five recruiting classes in the country and the question no one will ask has to be, "What is going on at Duke?"

In 2000, a young Duke team finished 11-5 and made the NCAA Tournament, losing a close game to Virginia. In '01, things seemed to be on the right track as the Blue Devils finished 11-6, won the ACC, and lost to eventual Final Four team Towson in the NCAA Tournament. Those were the glory days. Since then, Duke has finished 8-7 both seasons, only made the NCAA tournament in 2002 because Hofstra was robbed, and failed to qualify for the post-season in 2003. This happened despite the presence of Team USA star Kevin Cassese to compliment sophomores Monfett and Rewkowski and several blue chip freshmen this season-including Dan Flannery, Glen Nick, KJ Sauer, and Matt Zash…among others. The incoming class for next season includes Matt Danowski-the Most Outstanding Player from the U-19 Tournament and arguably the best High School senior this past season, and goalie Danny Loftus-considered among the top three High School senior goalies in the country…among a big group that once again is among the best recruiting classes in the country.

On paper, Duke should be at the same level as fellow ACC standouts Virginia and Maryland-both Final Four participants in 2003 (and UVa's National Title). But, will they be in turmoil within, as Monfett and Rewkowski leaving cannot be good news for the team. The question no one asks them is "What on earth happened down there?"

This question simply will not be asked by enough people to be answered. Attempts to write a serious news story covering this situation have been less than fruitful and more than frustrating. Lips are sealed tight on the Duke campus and getting any of Duke rival coaches to speak on the record is nearly impossible. With Rewkowski not on the JHU campus yet, only his words to the Baltimore Sun are public…but one can only expect that his next interview will deal mainly with his excitement over being a Blue Jay. And without official word of a transfer, reaching Monfett is not in the cards right now either.

The point is that it seems like in the lacrosse media world, whenever there is an issue to be raised, it is swept under the rug. Only a few weeks before the 2003 season began, Yale University changed Head Coaches. Why? Nobody knows…nor was it investigated by any of the publications and websites (including the one I write for). Now the two best returning players to a program that is recruiting some of the finest lacrosse players in the country leave and there are no answers as to why. Rewkowski's public criticism of Pressler in one of the largest daily newspapers in the world should have stirred many questions from the press and Duke faithful like "What is the reason for Duke's underachievement despite recruiting some of the best lacrosse players in the country year in and year out?" Again-since few are willing to ask, no answers will be heard. Much of the college lacrosse world carry themselves like participants in a big-time sport, but at the same time hold to some small sport privacy ethic they've afforded themselves as non-celebrities. It doesn't work that way.

I will come under much criticism for writing this, but it is inherently the responsibility of the media to ask questions like these. We cannot simply cover the sunny days in lacrosse and point out how great it is all the time.

By no means is this a direct criticism of Duke Lacrosse or Mike Pressler. During my career, I interviewed Mike on several occasions and found him to be very accessible and professional. He is as intense as you get, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. That there are several Division I Men's Lacrosse Coaches I look forward to interviewing a lot less than Pressler. Duke's recent problems could boil down to the individuals on the team and the inability of such firepower to mesh together. The transfers of Monfett and Rewkowski could be the off-spring of this situation. As much as the Coach is responsible for the team to work together, as we learn often in sports, the most talented team is not always the best.

It may not be Pressler's fault that Duke is facing these issues at all. It is possible that you have two young men used to being the center of attention on their lacrosse programs, unable to handle not being the one with the ball al the time. It is every bit as possible that these kids lost touch with themselves at Duke as it is that Pressler lost touch with the Duke program. The later would be newsworthy, if true, in any sport. But with most of the lacrosse media turning their backs on anything controversial, whatever is affecting Duke Lacrosse is not being covered at all and those involved have no motive to talk. Some will say that what happens down there is not the business of the public. But the goings on of a sports program at a university as high in the public profile as Duke, annually gaining a healthy dose of the best talent in the country, are the business of the lacrosse and therefore the lacrosse media. So we'll keep the questions coming.

July 21, 2003

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