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The Problem with Ben DeLuca's Dismissal

The lack of clarity around Cornell's decision to fire DeLuca is the biggest issue in this whole mess.

Mitchell Layton

When Cornell made its decision to suspend its men's lacrosse team from 2013 fall competition due to a hazing incident, the university exhibited impressive transparency in its decision-making process. Cornell detailed the findings of its investigation on its website and Andy Noel, the Red's Director of Athletics, responded directly and frequently to press requests for comments on the determinations that administrators made. Even if there were questions as to whether the sanctions put upon the men's lacrosse team were appropriate, there were little issues regarding how and why the decision to sideline the program from fall intersquad scrimmages was made. There was openness to Cornell's verdict for temporary suspension; the actions that the university undertook appeared consistent with what was discovered.

Unfortunately, Cornell has deviated from that approach in its dismissal of former head coach Ben DeLuca, and it's that deviation in methodology -- forgoing transparency for total opacity -- that's most troubling: It's not that Noel sent DeLuca packing; it's that Noel has unplugged his telephone and is sitting in the dark without providing any indicia of reasoning for kicking a cat to the curb that spent 17 years of his life wearing Carnelian red.

Nobody is questioning whether Noel has the authority and responsibility to make athletic personnel decisions. That authority and responsibility, however, isn't without mitigation: Cornnell lacrosse's alumni, fans, supporters, boosters, and current student-athletes are entitled -- there is an inherent right here -- to a modicum of respect, requiring Noel to support his decisions that impact the lacrosse program with a baseline level of rationale delivered through reasonable means. Noel has been grossly negligent in this obligation, asserting in a single email to the Cornell community and a single press release to the lacrosse community at large that he made a decision to fire Ben DeLuca because he chose to fire Ben DeLuca. That's not good enough. Noel isn't the Chief Operating Officer of a private corporate enterprise that can make personnel decisions in a vacuum; rather, he's the administrator of a college athletics program, a different kind of animal that requires a different degree of justification given college athletics unique position in the American experience.

The residue of Noel's decision to foreclose further inquiry into his decision to let DeLuca go, accordingly, is one of unfairness. It's unfair to Cornell's alumni that they have no reasoning for why the former navigator of their program -- a program that they bled and sweated for -- is now collecting severance pay; it's unfair to Cornell's current players that bought into DeLuca's vision for Cornell lacrosse and were willing to make the necessary physical and mental sacrifices; it's unfair to Cornell's incoming recruits that built their decisions on attending Cornell partly on DeLuca's continued employment at the university; and it's unfair to Matt Kerwick and Peter Milliman, two coaches that now have around a dozen weeks to prepare Big Red lacrosse for a season of competition under a new regime.

There simply needs to be a higher level of communication from Noel. Without it, invested parties are left to mere speculation and the potential erosion of faith in Noel's decision-making. Was Noel's decision built upon underperformance from DeLuca on the field (that seems ridiculous considering that the Red made two NCAA Tournament appearances under DeLuca, the most recent coming last spring when Cornell ventured to Championship Weekend only to fall to Duke in the national semifinals)? Did DeLuca commit a personal conduct violation or were there internal issues between Noel and DeLuca that required a change in personnel? Did Noel's vision for the program -- in actionable terms -- substantially differ from DeLuca's? Was this tied to the hazing incident that occurred earlier this fall (which doesn't make sense given Noel's comments regarding the imposed punishment and the timing of DeLuca's dismissal)? Noel doesn't need to go into great detail regarding his choice to fire DeLuca, but he has to provide something. Noel has not done that and has chosen to eliminate that responsibility from the various duties associated with his position.

That's what makes Ben DeLuca's dismissal a problem, and as long as Noel fails to substantiate his decision, the issue will persist.

Editorial note: A small edit was made at 9:57 A.M. regarding incoming recruits and National Letters of Intent.