While there are still games left to be played in the 2016 college basketball regular season, the postseason is already looming large over the remaining three weeks. Experts are restlessly predicting the sixty-eight team NCAA tournament field, coaches are vigorously planning to enhance their teams’ resumes with a few more marquee wins, and fanbases are optimistically scrutinizing any and every way that their team can still go dancing come March. These are exciting times for college basketball fans.
Though the tournament field annually brings controversy, this year could be even more contentious, and our orange friends from up north will be in the middle of it. Syracuse’s season has been a roller-coaster ride; lots of winning, lots of losing, and most notably, the failed appeal of head coach Jim Boeheim’s nine game suspension. Boeheim served his suspension in early December, and the Orange went 4-5 over that span, but that doesn’t seem to matter. CBS Sports’s Jon Rothstein reports that Syracuse will be evaluated for the NCAA tournament based solely on its performance under Boeheim. In other words, that 4-5 record under interim head coach Mike Hopkins, which consisted of losses to Georgetown, St. John’s, Pittsburgh, Miami, and Clemson, will be discounted completely.
I have a couple major problems with this. It’s not like Boeheim was absent for an acceptable reason, such as something related to personal health or an injury. He was suspended by the NCAA for multiple rule violations: providing extra benefits to players and recruits, academic misconduct, impermissible booster activity, and failure to follow the collegiate drug testing policy. It was so bad that Syracuse will lose two scholarships per year for the next four years and had to vacate over one hundred wins from 2004-2012. Boeheim couldn’t even contact his team or assistant coaches until the suspension was over.
There’s no doubt that Syracuse has been better under Boeheim; with nose-picker Jim leading the charge, they are 14-3 and have beaten a few ranked teams. But if the NCAA is going to ignore the Mike Hopkins period, what’s the point of even suspending Boeheim in the first place? Isn’t the point of a suspension to punish the coach for breaking the rules? Is it really a punishment if the team’s performance during that time is entirely disregarded? The precedent this would set for the sport is horrible. “Hey coaches: if you cheat and get suspended for a few games, don’t worry. We can selectively ignore that part of the season.”
Another huge issue I have with this is the NCAA’s blatant negligence to at least be reasonably consistent. Rothstein also reported that Wisconsin, whose longtime coach Bo Ryan surprisingly decided to retire midway through the season, will be judged on its full resume. The Badgers have been far better under new coach Greg Gard, posting a 9-4 record with wins at #2 Maryland, vs #4 Michigan State, and vs #19 Indiana. Wisconsin is currently on a seven-game win streak and is heading into a massive rematch with Michigan State on Thursday. Under Ryan, the team was a decent 7-5, but that includes bad losses at home against Western Illinois, Marquette, and Milwaukee. It’s just as clear that this is a different team under Gard as it is with Syracuse and Boeheim. So why doesn’t it matter for Wisconsin?
I can’t think of a difference, except for the fact that Syracuse’s coach cheated and was suspended for a violation of NCAA rules, while Wisconsin’s manager legally retired after an illustrious career and was replaced. Both teams are performing better under a different coach who will be leading the team for the tournament. So why is there inconsistency? If Syracuse gets into the tournament over Wisconsin and the teams possess comparable resumes, I will not be a happy camper.
The Badgers are currently a nine seed in Bracket God Joe Lunardi’s most recent prediction, and Syracuse is a ten seed, so both teams certainly have room to improve their resumes. Wisconsin has six games left in the regular season, including tilts with Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, and Purdue, which leave them a lot of opportunities to improve their stock. Syracuse has five games left, one with tournament-ineligible #13 Louisville, and three others with teams currently in Lunardi’s sixty-eight team field. Obviously, there’s still enough time left for both teams to win some big games and lock themselves into the tournament field, which would remove them from the bubble and render this conversation insignificant.
I’m scared to see what will happen if Syracuse crashes and ends up on the bubble. Will the NCAA reward them for their coach’s suspension? Or will their entire resume be considered, as it rightfully should be? Only time will tell and hopefully the NCAA, for once, makes the right choice.