The Sports Sermon: Boeheim needs to take responsibility

February 12, 2015

“Will the person responsible please step forward?”

This refrain is often heard coming from a coach who isn’t happy with his team, but doesn’t know who to blame. If the culprit doesn’t come forward, everyone will be forced to run laps or no one will be able to leave until someone pays the piper. This all comes to mind while pondering the recent developments surrounding the Syracuse men’s basketball program.

This past Wednesday, the school announced a self-imposed ban from this year’s post-season play in order to alleviate some pressure from an NCAA investigation surrounding alleged academic fraud, irregularities in its drug policy, and an improper relationship with a YMCA staff member. School officials stated that none of the possible improper conduct occurred after 2012 and that no current student-athlete was involved. The school hopes that such self-imposed actions will help lessen the degree of punishment doled out by the NCAA when it discloses the results of its investigation in the coming weeks.

After announcing the ban, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said, “I am very disappointed that our basketball team will miss the opportunity to play in the post-season this year. However, I supported this decision, and I believe the university is doing the right thing by acknowledging that past mistakes occurred. Our players have faced adversity and challenges before.”

The problem is that the only person who can be held responsible for bringing this adversity upon his players is Jim Boeheim. In that passive statement, Boeheim sounds almost as if he’s speaking as a program outsider, instead of the day to day CEO of the multi-million dollar enterprise that is Syracuse basketball. This kind of statement gives the idea that some distance separates the coach from the alleged violations of his program. It’s as if he’s trying to deflect blame from himself.

In the end, the wrong people end up receiving the punishment because no one, especially the head coaches of these college programs, wants to stand up and take responsibility. Players will be barred from earning a spot in March Madness this season. Syracuse fans will be deprived of the prospect of rooting for their team in March and experiencing the thrill ride that is the NCAA Tournament. And every fan of college basketball will miss out on the opportunity to watch a team that boasts some of the best athletes in the country. But they all had nothing to do with committing the violations. Why then should they be forced to pay the price?

Will Boeheim lose his job over what is now the second time that the NCAA imposes sanctions on his program for recklessness? No. In fact, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season, it seems that he will receive a lucrative contract extension. 

Will he be suspended for his actions? Probably not. NCAA violations have occurred at other schools with other high-profile head coaches. Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari’s previous two stops as a college head coach, UMass and Memphis, had sanctions imposed due to violations committed when Calipari was the head coach, and he did not serve any suspension for either transgression. 

Will he even see the possibility of a pay cut or some other form of punishment? Almost certainly not. Instead, he will probably have the court at the Carrier Dome renamed after him, and he will be forever praised as a man who brought Syracuse a national championship, not the man who brought embarrassment upon a school that has found itself investigated by the NCAA now for the second time in his tenure.

We do not know definitively whether Boeheim himself personally committed any violations. Only time and further investigation by the NCAA will reveal his role in these infractions. Still, the responsibility must ultimately fall on Boeheim’s shoulders, as he is both the overseer and public face of the Syracuse basketball program.

Boeheim should be held accountable for what occurs within his program, but it should not take an NCAA ruling for this to happen. He should own up to the transgressions of his program and accept this responsibility along with the punishment that should follow. Instead, however, Boeheim acts like the fifth grader who threw the paper airplane in class when the teacher wasn’t looking, causing everyone else to be subjected to the punishment, rather than have himself take responsibility.


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