It’s now beyond a shadow of a doubt, if Syracuse reaches the Final Four it would have been Jim Boeheim’s greatest coaching job ever. Because of how short our memories are and the never-ending search for bold headlines, we regularly assign hyperbolic adjectives and impact to the most recent of sports accomplishments: best ever, worst ever, etc. But after Yahoo! Sport’s most recent story, it’s clear this SU season has endured more haymakers than any other in history. This would be The Per’fesser’s greatest performance ever. Let’s answer a fistful of questions surrounding the newest report.
- How bad is this?
It’s bad. But it’s not Penn State/Miami bad. If UConn or Georgetown had been reported to have widespread drug failings, we’d be screaming about how dirty those programs are. If Kentucky was in the middle of this, we’d paint Coach Cal as running a renegade program without rules. You don’t want compliance, the athletic department, or coaches blindly ignoring multiple positive drug tests as regular protocol.
But this is nowhere near the major scandals of Happy Valley or the sex cruises on South Beach. Unfortunately, the bar has been set so remarkably low on college sports scandal this is barely enough to keep people’s interest for a few days. And please don’t compare this to Baylor six years ago. Yes, Dave Bliss attempted to cover up drug use on his team. He also organized a smear campaign to paint one of his players as a drug dealer to help cover up the murder of a teammate. That’s an episode of The Wire. Night and day.
- Are other teams doing it?
Yes, unfortunately that’s not a good enough excuse. Let’s say these drug tests are for marijuana and cocaine. The idea Syracuse somehow has a bigger issue with its players on weed and coke than Florida, or USC, or Texas is a joke. Hell, how about LIU, South Alabama, or New Mexico State? “Wait one second! 18-22 year old students are… (gasp) doing drugs! And then playing in games!?” You’d like to believe athletes are clean at least for the season, but isn’t drugs and athletes exactly what the Marcus Sales situation revolves around? Wasn’t this the rumor surrounding Philip Thomas’ suspension? This is not foreign soil, here. Kids doing drugs, especially high-profile athletes who have a lot of things thrown their way because of popularity is commonplace. Welcome to the real world. But when you’re caught, it’s not as simple as “well, everyone’s doing it.”
- Will it effect this team?
I can’t see any way the NCAA suspends current Orange players over the next month. The organization is renown for moving at a glacial pace. The Hurricanes and Nittany Lions haven’t been doled out any punishment by the NCAA and the scope of those horrors were laid out months ago. Asking the NCAA to meter out suspensions within the month is like asking the mayor’s office to fix the pothole within the hour. Not happening.
But can this once again create a distraction which saps some juice from SU, and eventually is too much to overcome? Yes. This program and coach has shown an immeasurable amount of resiliency to withstand the Bernie Fine scandal to have its best regular season ever. Fab Melo was academically ineligible, but this team found ways to stay on course. The ACC move hangs over everyone’s head. SU has soared, while Pitt has crashed (although not necessarily because of the league change). But if national media is asking at every press conference about drug testing and abuse within the program, it can absolutely affect the players. Luckily, as stated above, it’s just hard to imagine this is enough to garner that much attention. It’s light reading in the world of college scandal.
From Dan Wetzel’s excellent piece on Yahoo! today: “Here’s guessing you didn’t care too much that 10 Syracuse basketball players tested positive for banned substances over the past decade. I know I didn’t.” This is one of the lead college writers in the country.
- Is the timing shady?
Absolutely. Yahoo chooses the eve of the Big East Tournament to drop the bomb on drug testing. Right when college basketball has one month to itself, and the entire CBB media universe is starting to travel, eat, and work together for five weeks. Not a coincidence. It gets Yahoo! the most pageviews, buzz and legs, instead of dropping this say, Super Bowl week. Robinson said in a Yahoo! interview they began digging for this story when the Fine scandal broke to investigate the culture of SU hoops. The report could’ve easily been published anytime over the past 2-3 months. Just look at the timing of SI’s piece on UCLA. That’s been an ongoing story for years, but it comes out on the eve of March Madness.
There is so little investigative journalism done around sports anymore because of rights fees and need for access, when it happens you have to tip your cap. ESPN is a complete fraud when it comes to any real investigative work, because it’s not going to uncover warts on its own products. Yahoo! has done terrific work on this front, and it’s hypocritical to piss all over this story just because it’s about SU. Charles Robinson’s work stands for itself in the Miami report. But this is akin to Mark Schwartz holding the Laurie Fine tape a full week for dramatic effect. It’s sensationalism.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that this Orange squad now has a depth of experience dealing with controversy and difficult questions. If any program is prepared to deal with the boat taking on more water, it’s this one. But if the NCAA wants to hand down punishment next season, SU has to take its lumps for breaking rules.