Sports View

tsj column writers - sports viewBy Jordan Kobritz      

 

“The Emperor has no clothes.” —Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale

 

Although Andersen wrote his fairy tale in 1837, he could have been referring to Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim.  Boeheim has acted the part of an emperor throughout his 37 years at the helm of Syracuse’s successful basketball program.  But the Emperor has finally been unclothed.

Last week the NCAA Committee on Infractions issued its long awaited report that chastised Syracuse for committing a number of major violations, including academic fraud, extra benefits, illegal booster activities, and ignoring its own drug policy so basketball players wouldn’t miss games.  Nor did the governing body spare Boeheim.  From the report:  “During the 10-year period of violations, the head basketball coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program and did not monitor the activities of those who reported to him as they related to academics and booster involvement.”

In a written response to the report Boeheim said he was disappointed three times.  But true to form, not once did he accept responsibility or show any contrition for the cesspool that he created, fostered, encouraged and ignored.  Worse, the cowardly Boeheim tried to shift responsibility for the NCAA violations onto an employee of the local YMCA who had, with Boeheim’s consent, ingratiated himself to the basketball players and the program.

At one point in his statement Boeheim referred to the employee and the YMCA as follows:  “This was a highly regarded individual who worked for the one most respected organizations in the country.”  If Boeheim read and approved of the statement prior to its release, it’s clear why academic integrity wasn’t exactly a priority at Syracuse.  When the coach and putative leader of the program exhibits grade school proficiency in grammar, can we realistically expect anything more of the players?

When the NCAA asked why the University did not follow its written drug-testing policies Athletic Director Daryl Gross responded:  “The department followed an ‘unwritten policy’ because the written policy was confusing.”  By conveniently ignoring a “confusing” policy, players who tested positive for drugs – some repeatedly – were allowed to participate in games, which was more conducive to winning than clarifying the policy.

The basketball staff encouraged players to develop a relationship with a booster who gave them cash to “volunteer” at a local YMCA. Perhaps the staff members’ objectivity was clouded by the fact that the same booster also gave them money for appearing at YMCA events.  Those payments were not reported to the school as outside income or supplemental pay, another violation of NCAA rules.  Several players also received academic credit for internships at the local YMCA, even though the internships were never performed.

The NCAA sanctions included the loss of 12 scholarships over four years, affirmation of this year’s self-imposed postseason ban, a variety of recruiting restrictions, financial penalties that include the return of revenue from NCAA tournament appearances, five years of probation and Boeheim’s suspension for nine games during next year’s ACC season, and vacating 108 of Boeheim’s 966 wins for using ineligible players.  Although those penalties could cripple the basketball program in the short term, don’t expect Boeheim to be fired any time soon.  To the outside world Boeheim can be arrogant, combative, prickly and dismissive.  But the man is idolized by Syracuse nation.  His supporters see only one thing:  The success of the program during his reign.

Boeheim is the most powerful individual on campus and in the greater Syracuse community.  He controls his “bosses” at the University, not the other way around, as evidenced by Athletic Director Gross’ comments to the NCAA and Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud’s defiant tone in his defense of Boeheim following the NCAA’s report.  Such an inverted management hierarchy creates an unhealthy environment which can lead to the results we see in the NCAA report.  But based on the immediate and unanimous outpouring of support for Boeheim, changes in the org chart won’t be forthcoming any time soon.  Boeheim is still in charge.

The Syracuse sanctions must have sent a shiver through other NCAA programs including the University of North Carolina, another basketball powerhouse, where decades of academic fraud have been detailed in the media.  After all, if the NCAA can disrobe the Emperor, no one is off limits.

(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner.  He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com  Jordan can be reached at jordan.kobritz@cortland.edu)

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