Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Alma Mater, Syracuse, Takes The Pipe

Mr. Charm
Today, Syracuse University took the lead before the NCAA wolves, self- imposing a ban on post-season play for the men's basketball team this year. The hope is that by taking the hit on their own, they'll keep the NCAA from making the penalty worse, and show themselves as cleaning their own house, rather than having to make the NCAA clean it for them.

What did they do to bring on such scandal? Well, Fab Melo turns out to be not much of a scholar-athlete (shocking!), and James Southerland probably got paid, and the fact that I didn't fall asleep while writing that sentence makes me feel awesome about my level of professionalism, and your level of tolerance. Saying that professional sports hosted by colleges is corrupt is like finding health code violations in food trucks. In Fallujah. On some level, I think you are coming for the corruption and disease, in that it adds a certain thrill to the experience.

Head coach Jim Boeheim has been at the school for 39 years (!), so there's no way that he wasn't part of the problem... but it's also very likely that he's not going to just up and leave over this. He's too close to 1,000 wins, won't want to go out like this, has been involved in enough Team USA and media tongue baths to not get too broiled, and is an institution in town, mostly because he finally won the damn tournament with the Single Year Of Carmelo Anthony a decade ago. There's no obvious successor after the Bernie Fine scandal (and the less said about that, the better), though I'm sure there would be any number of name brand options within minutes, given how many Orange have had strong careers in the Association and elsewhere.

The way the school is handling the scandal is telling. Syracuse straddles a lot of lines, in that it's a well-regarded school academically, huge, monstrously expensive, and overly represented in the media, which means that it gets a bit of a white wash, along with more attention and hand-wringing. It's also one of the biggest employers in the region, and the city isn't insubstantial, ranking at the tail end of the top 100 metro areas in the country in terms of population. It's got some mean streets, and some of the worst weather on the planet, but there's money there, and the school is more or less New York City's unofficial Division I college team, what with all of the people that go there from Long Island.

In short -- SU needs to be a pro sports engine. It can't just walk away from that, because the region really could support pro level sports in a number of leagues. But on some level, it probably wants to. As good as the Carrier Dome has been for the athletic department, it is a bit incongruous for 60K+ townies to invade a top 100 college on a routine basis, and it's not doing much to prevent the place from being known more for partying than professionals. Being all things to all students is nice and all, but sports tends to take away from prestige, and vice versa. 

If you are inclined to look at these things with a jaundiced eye, Boeheim's club is 15-7 right now, 6-3 in the ACC, 5th in the conference, and were not exactly a lock to have been invited to any post-season action in the first place. They can't shoot (43.7% from the floor), don't push the pace (131st in points per game), and are doing their usual thuggy zone work to win games and fail to influence people. Center Rakeem Christmas, the last holdover from recent good teams, is going to have an NBA career as a not big enough banger, and maybe freshman PG Kaleb Joseph can learn how to shoot enough to be more than a cup of coffee guy, but the rest of the club is just there. The recruiting scandals haven't helped, but the real issue here is that there are plenty of places you can go to where the weather will be nicer, you'll be able to run and gun more, and the NCAA isn't staring down your wheels or your girl or your living space.

Will they return to prominence fast enough to be more than a soft landing for Boeheim into retirement? Probably not, but the plain and simple of college hoop is that it doesn't take that much, especially with a system like SU, where pace is slowed and you can play 35+ minutes a game without getting hurt. The death knell for this program has been rang a bunch of times in the last four decades, and the school presents well to recruits -- especially if you get the talent to the right / wrong frat. And hey, Boeheim has to have some wiles or mojo to have gotten all of the studs he's gotten all of those years. Write them off at your peril.

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