DURHAM, N.C. — Durham Mayor Bill Bell says he recently contacted Duke University about a proposed ceremony to recognize the school's men's lacrosse team.
But he insists it's only for the team's play on the field and for no other reason.
"No matter what you do, people are always going to be suspect to a certain amount and wonder what your ulterior motive is," Bell said. "But I can tell you there is no ulterior motive."
The top-seeded and fourth-ranked Blue Devils play Cornell Saturday in the NCAA semi-finals. The national championship game is Monday.
Bell says no date has been set to recognize the team and that the city will honor it even if it doesn't take home the national title.
But a year ago, the team wasn't being celebrated for its season. Instead, it was embroiled in controversy. Duke President Richard Brodhead canceled the highly ranked team's season amid allegations from exotic dancer Crystal Mangum that three players raped and sexually assaulted her at a team party.
A grand jury indicted co-captain David Evans and two other players -- sophomores Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty -- in connection with the case.
Longtime lacrosse coach Mike Pressler resigned.
And the lacrosse team, itself, faced a tumultuous year in which it made headlines for the wrong reasons.
The team was put under a microscope by the university -- which studied the team's culture. Players faced criticism from Duke faculty, staff and students.
Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong publicly referred to the athletes as a "bunch of hooligans" and threatened to bring charges against them for not cooperating with the investigation.
And many in the community considered the players the "bad boys of college athletics."
"They didn't ask for any labels, and they're not asking for any now," Duke Coach John Danoski said Tuesday, admitting he was surprised by Bell's gesture.
"I think it just says people have moved on. I think everyone got tired of the story a while back," he said. "You know, life goes so quickly, so for people to forgive or move on, or to admit that these guys were misrepresented or misjudged is a very powerful statement and a very strong statement for someone to make."
But Bell points out the proposed recognition ceremony is not an attempt to mend fences or build bridges but said the city always tries to honor student athletes from local universities.
"The fact is they won the ACC championship. They're in the Final Four," Bell said. "That's quite an accomplishment."