As someone who once dreamed of playing basketball in the old Big East conference, it pains me to see that one of my favorite college basketball programs will not make it to the NCAA tournament this year. With a record of 15-8 (6-4), it was a bit of a long shot for the Syracuse Orange to make it to the big dance anyway, but nobody wanted to see them go out like this.
As was originally reported by ESPN, the Syracuse Mens Basketball team has imposed a postseason ban on itself for several unnamed transgressions that were committed back in 2007, when many on the current roster were still in elementary school.
Though the Syracuse Athletic Department hasnt announced exactly who was involved in the scandal, or exactly what those violations entailed, Sports Illustrated is reporting that former Syracuse standout turned NBA washout Fab Melo was involved as well as former player James Southerland.
Now after what is being described by the NCAA as an exhaustive investigation, the ‘Cuse has decided to punish itself this year, and by punish itself I mean punish its players, senior forward Rakeem Christmas in particular. Currently playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, the 6 ft 9 in senior will be robbed of an opportunity to showcase his talents in the NCAA tournament.
But isnt college basketball all about getting these young men an education? says the naive among our readership, to which I would respond. No, it is not. College basketball is big business for the university, and while the vast majority of Syracuse Orange will not play in the NBA it is a possible reality for Christmas and others with comparable skills. A shot at an NBA roster and a salary that will at the very least be in the upper six-figures is an ever encroaching reality.
Even bench warmers at big time Division I programs such as Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas are oftentimes given the opportunity to head overseas and play professional basketball. Despite that, a very, very small percentage of collegiate players ever play for pay. But for the university, it’s always about the bottom line.
Oh, but what about his education? you say. Rakeem Christmas has already knocked that out of the park after finishing his undergraduate studies in May 2014. Besides, with the men’s basketball program graduating 45 percent of its players one can hardly say the Syracuse Orange are the most studious bunch of basketball players, especially when considering 87 percent of all Orange athletes make it to graduation day. So please stop lying to yourself. It’s about cash money. Always has been.
Speaking of which, does Jim Boeheim lose any money in this self-imposed limbo?
Does Syracuse University have to return any of the Big East, ACC or NCAA tournament money it has earned through postseason play over the last seven years?
So please tell us again how this self-imposed penalty is punishing the program instead of the players?
The only people who were associated with the basketball team back in 2007 who are still around today are Boeheim, the vast majority of his coaching staff, and athletic director Dr. Darryl Gross. Now, we all know that the NCAA has never been known as the fairest organization out there. In fact, it might be the closest thing to a legal monopoly this side of the NFL. However, allowing Syracuse University to become yet another university to use its players as a virtual buffer against the possibility of stiffer NCAA sanctions is wrong.
But because there are no legal safeguards in place to protect the players, student athletes will continue to bear the brunt of sanctions, be they from the NCAA or self-imposed.