Featured Column, Men's Basketball, Column

A Sad Letter To My Friend Jim (Boeheim)

Dear Jim,

I truly hate to see it end this way. An empire of on-court action inexplicably built in one of the most miserably frigid areas of the country. (I recall my college visit to Syracuse University—it’s a lovely school, I’m just not one for snow. Well, at least not snow on April 1.) It was an unbelievable rise to greatness for you at Syracuse, even before your head coaching days when you assisted Roy Danforth in bringing the school into the national spotlight.

Since the 1976-77 season when you first grasped the helm, you’ve led the Orange to an NCAA or NIT berth in each season in which ’Cuse was eligible. With your recruiting, fighting spirit even in the face of prostate cancer in 2001, and revolutionary manipulation of the 2-3 zone defense, Coach Boeheim, you’ve transformed the desolate wasteland that constitutes the upper Empire State into a mecca for basketball.

For as long as I can remember, Syracuse has marketed itself as “New York’s College Team,” strange considering a majority of the state’s population live near New York City, such as myself, where we are almost 100 miles closer to Conte Forum than to the Carrier Dome. Yet given the lack of choices in the state, it’s also really hard to argue that fact. Syracuse is the only team in the state that plays in a Power Five Conference and only one of three (Army and Buffalo) that plays Division-IA football. You gave me plenty of memories as a tyke, especially that National Championship in 2003, and fulfilled my burning desire for college sports when no other team could.

And now those memories are all forever marred by your actions and of those in your esteemed basketball program.

What happened, Jim? Why did it have to come to this? I know it’s not your style. You’re well-known for a more lax approach, one not often seen in the modern day NCAA. Media members can routinely view practices and interview players in an era when non-game activity stays on lockdown for the journalists of the world. You’ve provided laughs in postgame pressers and in highlight reels—who can forget all of the times you’ve dug deep within the bowels of your own nostrils on national television?

But as we’ve learned over the last two weeks, this attitude has plenty of faults. Allowing a little more leniency with your players, preferring to let their personal issues fall on your assistant coaches is one thing. Standing idly aside as your players receive improper benefits with evidence to the shortcomings everywhere is completely different. Letting your best player, Fab Melo, receive improper help in a class he performed poorly in is irresponsible. It’s not like giving assistance on academic work that falls outside the NCAA’s rules doesn’t have a precedent for condemnation—just look at the University of North Carolina’s paper classes for that. In addition, allowing the Oneida YMCA to toss oodles of dollars at athletes falls on your shoulders as well.

Yet it doesn’t surprise me. You’ve always had a cocky and arrogant air about you. This is just another incident—the most significant on-court one—in your somewhat tumultuous tenure as head coach of the Syracuse Orange. We’ve seen recruiting violations, resulting in the program’s suspension from postseason play to 1993. Lets not forget the Bernie Fine sexual assault allegations, where you turned a blind eye to several heinous accusations directed at your assistant coach. It’s hard to justify doing this, if not on a purely moral ground, but at least in the wake of the near-death penalty handed down by the NCAA following the Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno incident at Penn State. 

It was suspicious enough when you self-imposed a postseason ban. At 18-13 (9-9 ACC), the Orange posted their worst season since 1981-82 after struggling out of the gate. With several powerful conference contenders, the team didn’t look poised to make a serious run in the ACC, much less the NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, the punishments from this scandal will hinder the Syracuse basketball program for at least a decade.  The program will lose three scholarships for four seasons, starting in 2015-16. We might not see you around Conte Forum next year either, Jim, if your game against BC falls within your nine-game suspension to open ACC play. Not to mention the fact that you’ll never catch Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski or the magical mark of 1,000 wins now since the NCAA is removing your personal (and the program’s) 108 wins from across the last decade. To stick around for a couple more years when you have little left to remain on the sidelines for is just a drawn out, disappointing goodbye.

Hey, we’ve all made our mistakes—Boston College is no exception to its share of athletics issues. We all know the story of what happened with the Eagles of 1978-79 and the point shaving scandal that rocked the nation. And I’m not oblivious to the fact that this is commonplace in the NCAA. Anyone who thinks each coach isn’t a little guilty of trying to get an edge in recruiting or for a student’s academics is fooling themselves.

But there comes a point when it just becomes too morally challenging to keep pulling for our favorite schools with all of these scandals, especially when they begin to involve the law. Coaches who seem infallible like Coach K get free passes. Where was the outlash at Duke’s program when accusations of sexual assault came out against Blue Devils’ shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon? Reports from The Duke Chronicle say the athletic department, including Krzyzewski, may have known about this incident as early as March 2014. 

Florida State is reprehensible for how it dealt with Jameis Winston. The school attempted to push back his hearing of sexual assault accusations back to Jan. 13 of this year—the day after the National Championship Game. And talk about his questionable past has also disappeared in favor of curiosity about his NFL prospects—he’s widely projected to be the No. 1 overall pick this May. At Vanderbilt, two former football players were convicted for an alleged gang rape in 2013. Although the perpetrators were proven guilty, problems persist, such as with wide receiver Chris Boyd, who assisted in covering up the incident. And it’s hard to forget those in Happy Valley who continue to love Paterno, peaking with the frankly absurd 409 wins sticker on the helmets of the Penn State hockey team. The disgraced former coach still gets treated like an icon, despite evidence showing he did the bare minimum to denounce his assistant coach Sandusky.

We’re not without fault. Fans are often to blame, sticking by their favorite players regardless of their image in the national light. It’s hard to defend your team when it pushes sexual assault allegations and other sanctions under the rug. And yet some fan bases still defend their teams no matter what, especially at Florida State. In Nov. 2014, The New York Times ran a story revealing that the Tallahassee Police Department may have given preferential treatment to cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams in a hit-and-run incident. Yet FSU fans tried covering up the story on Twitter by marking it as spam, ultimately forcing it to be taken down.

Far worse, Erica Kinsman, the student who accused Winston of sexual assault, was forced to drop out of school after constant taunts—many classmates called her a slut and a whore—as she states in Kirby Dick’s acclaimed documentary, The Hunting Ground.

Of course, what has happened at Syracuse pales in comparison to these criminal and alleged criminal acts. But they prove fans will stick with their schools despite any accusations or sanctions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Orange faithful do the same for you, Coach, just as they did during the Fine incident.

But I don’t buy that support. It’s been a nice run, Jim. You’ve given New Yorkers plenty of memories for the last 40 years. I think you’ve done enough. It’s time to save yourself more embarrassment and pack your bags.


An ex-fan

March 16, 2015

2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “A Sad Letter To My Friend Jim (Boeheim)”

  1. Very well done, Michael! Couldn’t have written it better myself–myself being a Syracuse native for 35 yrs before FINALLY finding my way outta there end of 1991 but still bleeding Orange wherever I moved to…till Bernie Fine and Boeheim’s coverup in 2011. I’m disgusted I wasted so much of my energy/life with SU athletics, or crooked NCAA sports in general. Boeheim earned his stripes with about 400 or so cupcake wins. Hardly Hall of Fame material. His scheduling purposely created his intended mystique. Remember, about half of the Big East were always cupcakes too. I firmly believe he never, ever, had any intention of leaving and being exposed as the mediocre coach he is. Stay, make your own schedule, and you’re an icon thru sheer wins and longevity. Brilliant plan of BS! I’ve seen his whole career, and listened to all his BS. His resume is good, but not hardly Hall worthy. Then again, his arrogance, ego, whininess, and lack of integrity are definitely Hall worthy!! Sincerely, another ex-fan.

  2. When you mix sports entertainment with a kangaroo academic court system, what you get is a hammering down on the self reporting minority. Without parity in additional rulings, NCAA is delved into the land of poor entertainment. You get 5 credits for playing basketball so you need 2-3 classes to be a student a semester. Does it matter the fluff and stuff courses were stuffed?

    I did not watch one NCAA game this year. It was not related to this. It was due with blatant ref ACC favoritism. Feed the ball in the paint in Cameron stadium in a close game is like watching WWE heel match. The coach K grin! He never said shit to Anthony Davis during Olympics. That would have been real sports entertainment.