March Madness of a different sort erupted Friday, as the NCAA condemned the Syracuse basketball program.
To be fair, the Orange football team also garnered a share of the sanctions, but this failed to surprise. Myriad staffs have spent most of the past 13 seasons proving they have little clue about running a football program.
On field or off.
But basketball — that’s another matter. Under the aegis of Jim Boeheim, Syracuse has become a basketball school.
That’s nothing short of a miraculous transformation. Fifty years ago, Syracuse was eastern football. Legendary coach Ben Schwartzwalder (’49-’73) annually churned out winning teams featuring great running backs.
How could basketball compete with the likes of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Jim Nance, Floyd Little, and Larry Csonka?
It couldn’t. It didn’t. Games were played in dirty, dingy old Manley Field House.
No one came, and no one cared.
That began to change in 1962, when Boeheim arrived on campus. He walked on with the freshman team. By his senior year, he was a captain, starting in the backcourt with the future mayor of Detroit and NBA star Dave Bing. The Orangemen went 22-6, and earned the school’s second-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
After playing three years in the American Basketball League, Boeheim returned to Syracuse in 1969 as a graduate assistant on Roy Danforth’s staff. He was a full-time assistant when Danforth led the school to its first Final Four appearance in 1975.
A year later, Danforth had left for Tulane, a search committee found no viable replacement, and Boeheim became head coach by default.
An NCAA championship in 2003. Four trips to the Final Four. Thirty-one Tournament berths. 966 wins.
Oh, yes. The team moved into the luxurious Carrier Dome in 1980. The largest arena in college basketball.
Boeheim has also spent countless hours working with the USA Basketball program. He and his wife, Juli, have established a foundation devoted to child welfare, cancer treatment, and prevention.
So, then, how incongruous is it that the Division I Committee on Infractions could ascertain the following: “For approximately 10 years, the head basketball coach failed in his responsibilities to promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program, and monitor the activities of those who reported directly or indirectly to him.”
The Committee’s scathing report declared that Syracuse compromised “its most fundamental core values. The behavior in this case, which placed the desire to achieve success on the basketball court over academic integrity, demonstrated clearly misplaced institutional priorities.”
Hard to imagine stronger language than that. But how often does the NCAA find a pattern of severe violations going back more than ten years?
Or longer. The Syracuse Post-Standard published the results of an investigative report in 1990 which detailed violations dating back to 1987. As a result, the NCAA investigated. Found guilty in 1993, Syracuse incurred sanctions which included a post-season ban that year.
The violations included illegal gifts from boosters to athletes, and interference with academic made to preserve eligibility.
Sound familiar? Those were among the violations detailed in the 94-page report issued Friday.
All of which makes you question Boeheim’s integrity when he noted in a Friday statement, “I am disappointed with many of the findings and conclusions stated in the infractions report. The Committee chose to ignore the efforts I have undertaken over the past 37 years to promote an atmosphere of compliance.”
Apparently, many members of the Syracuse staff, including several hired by Boeheim, have also chosen to ignore his efforts.
So, it seems that during at least 15 of Boeheim’s 39 years, some sort of illicit monkey-business has been ongoing. How could someone as sharp as Boeheim be so oblivious?
Anyone unfortunate enough to view the ESPN broadcast of the Virginia-Louisville game Saturday heard a real treat. The verbose Dick Vitale ranted for two minutes in support of his friend, Boeheim, who’ll be honored in May at the Dick Vitale Gala for pediatric cancer.
In short, mercifully, Vitale said, “Jim Boeheim was guilty of one thing: trust. He had trust in his people, trust in his boosters from the YMCA, and they really violated that trust.”
Boeheim finally commented on Sunday night at a Hardwood Club dinner in Syracuse. According to Syracuse.com, Boeheim told a group of Syracuse supporters, “There’s a lot of things to be said. It’s difficult right now. I think there’s a hell of a battle ahead of us. I came here in 1962. I’m not going anywhere.”
A long standing ovation followed.
Another vote for winning at any price.