Update 7:08p. CBS’ Seth Davis is reporting there is no connection between Fab’s suspension in January and this decision. I respect Davis’ work, but I don’t buy it. My educated guess is the NCAA has been crawling around the athletic department, and specifically this basketball program, since the Bernie Fine nonsense broke.
At the start of the second semester, potentially influenced by the NCAA’s attention, SU played it safe rather than sorry by suspending Fab. Thinking it had done enough and gotten his eligibility straightened out, the school reinstated him. As the season wore on, the NCAA continued to pick through the program. Recently, maybe last week, the NCAA must have alerted Syracuse there were serious questions surrounding Melo’s reinstatement. Rather than risking a potentially vacated run through the tournament, SU decided to take no chances.
It’s possible Jim Boeheim and co. decided to play Fab down the stretch knowing his eligibility was always in question, hoping it would eventually get squared away after the season or simply take its lumps down the road. But that would mean the school took a huge risk with the NCAA in the wake of the Bernie Fine scandal, and that would be incredibly brazen. It seems unlikely Syracuse would take such a risk. -D.A.)
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Forty-seven words. All it took was 47 words to crush the spirit of Orange Nation everywhere. In a two-sentence memo, Syracuse declared Fab Melo ineligible for the entirety of the NCAA Tournament, and left us all wondering how this could happen… again. FML.
“Syracuse University sophomore men’s basketball center Fab Melo did not travel with the team to Pittsburgh, and will not take part in the NCAA Tournament due to an eligibility issue. Given University policy and federal student privacy laws, no further details can be provided at this time.”
We need look no further than two years ago, when the top-seeded Orange was storming through the regular season, ready to make March its biznatch, and the floor suddenly dropped out. Arinze Onuaku ripped his knee in the Big East Tourney, and a formidable Syracuse team became pedestrian, losing to Butler in the Sweet 16.
The details are incredibly sketchy. What would deem Fab ineligible the eve of the NCAA’s? The Brazilian big man’s academic suspension earlier in the season hangs over this situation like a guillotine. Is it possible SU thought it was out of the woods getting his grades back in order and making him eligible, only to have the knot come undone over the last week? Maybe whatever sanding of the edges Syracuse did to Fab’s transcript over the winter became a target of investigation by either the NCAA or media outlets.
Yahoo! Sports reports of drug use and lackadaisical enforcement of positive tests may have popped a red flag on everything in the athletic department, especially the basketball program. Maybe SU got paranoid after Chuck and Pat began snooping around the program, looking for any gotcha story to plaster on Yahoo!’s front page. Could SU have gotten wind its finagling of Fab’s academic eligibility was getting the heat lamp treatment from a prying media outlet, and figured it had to cut bait with him before the story leaked?
As Charles Robinson said, “I think Pat Forde and myself began to dig into the culture of Syracuse, anything and everything that encompasses Syracuse basketball.” Which of course began because of the Bernie Fine scandal, which we all thought SU had left behind months ago. Argh.
Maybe Fab failed a drug test and Syracuse felt it had to suspend him in light of the report? Is it possible the university caught wind of an impermissible benefit that could compromise a run through March, and didn’t want to take the chance a Final Four banner could be vacated? When your left only to grasp at straws, nothing seems impossible.
Can Syracuse a national title without Fab? Probably not. He’s the most indispensable defensive player on the team, and a mammoth in the middle for any opponent to matchup against. Fab was the X factor. In the games without him, SU looked different, felt different, was different. Just like ’10, SU will be able to get into the second weekend of the tourney even without its center. But unfortunately, anything past the Sweet 16 will take a herculean effort from an Orange team we had stamped for the Final Four. Boeheim famously said, “Nothing bothers us” last week after beating UConn at MSG. That will be severely tested starting Thursday.