When the Bernie Fine story broke in November, it sounded spookily similar to the nightmare unfolding around Jerry Sandusky at Penn State: another assistant coach in one of college sports’ most accomplished programs, under a Hall of Fame head coach, leveraging his position in the program to exploit and sexually abuse underage boys. While the Fine saga in scope and depth looks unlike to rival that of Sandusky, whose crimes toppled the entire House of Paterno, it has unfolded with an ickiness all its own. Here’s your thumbnail of the past month:
1976: Jim Boeheim, the newly hired Syracuse basketball coach, brings Bernie Fine onto his staff.
Late ’70s: Fine allegedly molests Mike Lang, a ball boy at Syracuse, by reaching into his shorts and fondling him. Lang told ESPN’s Outside the Lines he was in the fifth or sixth grade when the abuse began.
1983: A gradeschooler named Bobby Davis, Lang’s stepbrother, meets Fine, a neighbor, while selling candy door-to-door.
1984 to 2000: Fine molests Davis, also a ball boy, over several years beginning in 1984, when Davis was about to enter the seventh grade. Now 39, Davis also told ESPN that Fine abused him at the basketball facilities and on road trips, including at the 1987 Final Four, where Syracuse finished as the national runner-up. Davis said the sexual contact from Fine continued until Davis was about 27.
2002: Davis reports Fine’s abuse to the Syracuse City Police. The police tell him that the statue of limitations (five years, in New York State, from last sexual contact) had expired and they won’t pursue the matter. Davis goes to the press, and in the course of cooperating with the Syracuse Post-Standard tapes a conversation with Fine’s wife, Laurie. After dozens of interviews, reporters and editors at the paper decide the tape’s contents are too vague, and the other interviews too thin, “to ruin a person’s life,” the paper’s executive editor recently wrote. Among those contacted, Lang denies that Fine abused him.
2003: Davis tells the university that he reported Fine to the police. He also goes on record with Outside the Lines, which decides not to broadcast its findings. Among the disclosures Davis gives the show is the tape of the 2002 conversation with Laurie Fine in which she all but acknowledges her husband had been touching him: “When he gave you the money [for student loan payments], what does he want for that? He wants you to grab him or he wanted to do you?”
2005: Syracuse spends four months investigating Davis’ allegations against Fine but also cannot get any corroborating evidence, according to the school.
Nov. 10, 2011: Danielle Roach, a longtime friend of Davis, tells Syracuse police that she knows someone Fine abused. The next day she persuades Davis to follow up with the police.
Nov. 17: Syracuse puts Fine on leave when Lang, stirred by Sandusky coverage, comes forward to ESPN with accusations of abuse, effectively backing Davis’ claims. Boeheim reflexively stands by Fine with words he would come to rue, calling the allegations “a thousand lies” and speculating that Lang and Davis “saw what happened at Penn State and they are using ESPN to get money.” Separately, Roach and Davis talk to Syracuse police and turn over the tape of Davis’ conversation with Laurie Fine.
Nov. 18: Nancy Cantor, Syracuse’s chancellor, emails the university community to acknowledge that the university investigated Fine in 2005 and to vow cooperation with the newly opened police investigation. “At this time,” she writes, “all we really know is that a terrible tragedy is unfolding for both the accuser and the accused.”
Nov. 19: A man in Maine facing sexual misconduct charges of his own, Zach Tomaselli, 23, also citing Sandusky coverage as an inspiration, goes to Syracuse police to accuse Fine of fondling him in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002.
Nov. 25: The Secret Service plus state and local police search Fine’s house for seven hours, seizing a computer, phones, cameras and DVDs.
Nov. 27: ESPN and the Post-Standard run stories on the Davis-Laurie Fine tape (sample line to Davis by the wife: “I know everything that went on with him”). Syracuse fires Bernie Fine, and Boeheim in a statement all but apologizes for his original reaction: “I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse.”
Nov. 30: In a front-page column, Michael J. Connor, the executive editor of the Post-Standard, defends his paper’s decision not to turn over the recorded conversation to the police years prior: “[D]on’t mistake us for an arm of law enforcement. Police have their job to do. We’ll keep trying to do ours.”
Dec. 2: Boeheim apologizes for having initially slagged Davis and Lang. “What I said last week was out of loyalty,” Boeheim says at a postgame news conference. “I reacted without thinking. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’m trying to learn from my mistake, and this has been a hard time. That’s all I can say.”
Dec. 7: The District Attorney in Onondaga County, N.Y., confirms what the Syracuse police had told Davis years earlier: that the statute of limitations had indeed elapsed, and although he believed Davis and Lang, he could not prosecute Fine’s alleged crimes. “I can’t bring Bernie Fine to justice for what he did to Bobby Davis and Mike Lang,” William Fitzpatrick says, “but if any other victims come forward, those charges will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Meanwhile Fine’s lawyers provide travel and school records that they say disprove Tomaselli’s accusations. The criminal case against Bernie Fine appears stillborn.