NEW YORK (Reuters) - Syracuse University should have contacted police when officials learned in 2005 that a basketball coach had been accused of sexually abusing a boy, a failure that exposed the school to "harsh criticism," according to a report commissioned by the university's board of trustees.
The report, released on Thursday, cited a number of failures in the university's response to former ballboy Bobby Davis' allegations against former assistant coach Bernie Fine. But it concluded that officials were not trying to "conceal or 'cover up' any conduct."
The 52-page report was commissioned by a special committee of the university's board of trustees in the aftermath of a scandal that rocked Syracuse University, a national basketball leader, and the world of high-stakes collegiate sports. The Syracuse case followed a child sex abuse scandal at football powerhouse Penn State.
Davis first reported the abuse to Syracuse police in 2002, but no investigation came of the report. He then told the university in 2005, and a resulting investigation by officials outside the school that interviewed 21 people found that Davis was likely not telling the truth, according to a summary of the case in the report.
Davis, with his stepbrother Mike Lang, then went to sports television network ESPN with the allegations accusing Fine on November 17, 2011. Additional information released 10 days later included more information, which led to Fine's firing.
Fine, who denied the allegations, cannot be criminally charged in the case because federal and state statutes of limitations had expired.
The report, conducted by law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, said the university should have contacted law enforcement upon learning of the accusations.
"At a minimum, making that report would have protected the University from criticism that it failed to contact law enforcement out of a desire to protect Bernie Fine or the Men's Basketball program," the report said.
"If they turned out to be true, then the failure to have approached law enforcement at best exposed the University to harsh criticism, and at worst allowed a child molester to remain in place in the community without being called to account."
It said outside counsel was largely to blame for not advising officials to take the accusations to law enforcement authorities.
The report also said the university's chancellor should have known student athletes may have had sexual encounters with Fine's wife, as the information may have put the university's reputation at risk.
The investigation was not as thorough as it could have been because it did not employ an expert on the matter, nor did it inform the board of trustees or focus on broader issues such as possible changes to university policies to protect children, the report concluded.
Pennsylvania State University has been blasted for not reporting an accusation of abuse against one of its former coaches, Jerry Sandusky. Two former officials from the school, athletic director Tim Curley and finance chief Gary Schultz, face charges of perjury and failure to report suspected abuse in an alleged cover-up of the incident.
Sandusky last month was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse.
(Reporting by Joseph O'Leary; additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Dan Grebler)