The Tail Is Wagging The Dog Up On Piety Hill: Syracuse University Basketball & NCAA Sanctions

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One of my oldest friends and I regularly correspond about our Syracuse University basketball fanaticism. We both grew up during the emergence of the Cuse: starting as a small-time program with unheralded recruits and a middling record–to the national power-NCAA tourney-TV exposure juggernaut we root for today. Randy has moved out to Cali, but his allegiance has never dimmed.

Our fandom started in the old Manley Field House–it even predates Coach Boeheim, as we sat in the cheap seats and rooted on Roy Danforth’s teams as they slowly emerged from the ECAC and went on the miracle 1975 run to the Final Four. Then came Boeheim, Louie and Bouie, The Big East and the Carrier Dome. The die was cast at this point. Syracuse is a national power, playing big-time college basketball. Very few institutions can do this and not avoid the kind of transgressions that has gotten SU placed on probation, fined and had their scholarships reduced.

Here is my response to my friend’s recent e-mail about the harsh sanctions placed on the Orange by the NCAA:

You pose an interesting batch of questions. My answers, in order:

1. Are we now ashamed to call ourselves fans of what appears to be a dishonest, rule-breaking entity?
No. We are fans of a University’s sports teams–not all of whom are rule-breakers. True fans are in this for the long-haul.

2. Do we feel like we’ve actually been a part of the problem, encouraging a win-at-all-costs mentality?
Yes. I’ve long argued that the “Centro alumni” have created a local fan base that has no real attachment to the University, no understanding of the function of athletics within an academic institution and an entitled attitude of “win-for-me-at-all-costs”. These are the same folks that boo their own players at home games! Until this year, SU fans forgot that college hoops can be an exercise in humility, ups and downs, disappointment AND accomplishment–and still be a great thing to be a part of. You remember when we were psyched to beat Providence in the ECAC and get an invite to the NIT. A lot of folks have never experienced this (or forgotten what it feels like.)

3. Do we take umbrage at the whole thing, certain that SU has been made a scapegoat and that they really didn’t do that much in the way of truly bad things, and that whatever it is that they did do that broke rules are things that many other programs do all the time.

No. First, having players and coaches taking money under the table from shady folks is bad news–the whole “lack of institutional control” from back in the 90’s when we let car dealers, barbershop owners and NYC street agents run rampant through our athletic department. Second, doing an ineligible players academic work to restore their eligibility is THE WORST THING an academic institution can do. It guts the heart of the school’s mission to place the interests of a student’s extra-curricular activity over their academics and cheapens the value of a Syracuse U. diploma.

As to the ” others do the same thing all the time, we just got caught” argument–you’re a parent, right? How would you respond to your daughter arguing for clemency on this basis? (Besides UNC is gonna get HAMMERED!)

4.Do we note that the NCAA is a corrupt organization of plantation owners, making a fortune from a captured customer base by using the free labor of a captured employee base.

Yes (but it doesn’t change anything regarding the penalties.) Big time college athletics are rotten to the core–and I support major changes to how they are run. I support immediate discussions on real enforcement of the 20 hour of practice/week rule; player unions; eliminating the NCAA and establishing a two-tier system: one with student/athletes (like Div 3 and the Ivies) and the other with pro athletes who receive pay and a promissory note for a four year scholarship to affiliated college after athletic eligibility is over. Eliminate “college” athletics entirely. I don’t really care what you choose to do–just do something. There is no real need (and no real justification) for tying academic institutions to big time athletics.

That being said–the current system has problems–and Syracuse is definitely one of them. It may not be a perfectly balanced playing field–but the fact that a small, northeastern school is competitive at all says something about the current system. Syracuse understood the rules–it chose not to honor them.

SYRACUSE GOT OFF EASY!

5. I do know that the Giants opening day is not far off.

Same with the Sox. Thanks for Sandoval, BTW!

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