Saturday, March 7, 2015

Syracuse and the NCAA Do Kabuki

Paint Up
So the hammer came down from the NCAA today on the Syracuse men's basketball program, and while it was more than what the team had already done to itself (dropped out of post-season competition this year), it still wasn't all that intense. Vacating 108 wins over various years does not matter to anyone but the coach doing the counting, because it's not as if those memories do not exist, or that the NCAA isn't prone to just changing their mind later. Head coach Jim Boeheim will be suspended for 9 ACC games next year, and a few scholarships have been nicked, but much more could have been done, and wasn't.

Boeheim is probably going to fight and appeal this, because Boeheim fights and appeals everything, but my guess is that this is just a reflexive matter that will be forgotten about in a couple of years. And who knows, maybe he convinces some committee later to mitigate the punishment downwards. In the end analysis, it doesn't really matter. A decade of smoke and strong monitoring is going to get to some next stage. If the team is good next year, they'll go to the NCAA tournament. The rest is noise at a slow time in the sports calendar.

Is this a dirty program? Of course; academic fraud was committed, the way it probably is at every other major school in the country. A Hall of Fame coach has had his reputation besmirched, but that was going to happen regardless of the NCAA sanctions. Boeheim has earned loyalty from the university for consistently contending over many decades, and the performance of the program has been a big reason why the school has been a money machine. (That, and the fact that this is the de facto safety school for wealthy Long Island families.) And while scholarships getting docked limits your margin of error in case of injury or washout, it's not as if Boeheim's grind your eyes out system of long possessions and zone defense means he's ever gone very deep into his bench in games that matter.

The bigger question, of course, is what this means to Boeheim. If this is the final straw that gets him to go following a lifetime spent chasing all of one title (thank you once again, Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick), then so be it. The school is still the only major sports outlet in a 2-hour radius, there's money in the area, the stadium fits 30K+ plus people, and they've got a long history of getting people to overcome the weather for the big-time media push.

And if he stays, he'll probably use this as an Us Against The World push, the same way that other troubled programs have. It's not as if weak NCAA attention has been a super-strong negative performance indicator of future sporting success. If it was, programs would be a hell of a lot less likely to cut corners.

To me, it's all kabuki. The best athletes are not now, nor have ever been, the best students. Teams want to use the best athletes, because that's the surest way to win. There's a crazy stupid amount of money for teams that win, and teams that do not win cost their schools money and get people fired. This is a swamp in constant need of draining, and in a better world, athletics would be cleaved whole from colleges, leading to a dramatically less corrupt environment for both.

We don't live in that world. We have to pretend that sanctions matter, that dirty schools will be caught and punished, and that teams can be great and clean.

If it helps them all sleep at night...

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