From the moment Jim Boeheim and I started brainstorming and then doing the actual interviewing for BLEEDING ORANGE, the ongoing NCAA investigation of the Syracuse basketball program was the elephant in the room.
“If the investigation isn’t resolved by the time we turn in the final draft,” Boeheim told the publishers who were interested in securing the book, “we can’t talk about it.” After we sold the project, the savvy, sports-oriented author of HarperCollins, David Hirshey, understood the strictures involved but for obvious reasons wanted Boeheim to lay waste to the NCAA. Let’s be honest: Controversy sells books.
I wanted Boeheim to do the same, not just because controversy sells books but because I’ve come to regard the NCAA with the same affection that I regard, say, a case of shingles. The organization oozes hypocrisy and arrogance, and that’s on its good days. (For more on this subject, see Bilas, Jay, whose comments on the organization, even those made in 140 characters, have been perceptive.)
As the weeks went by, we kept hoping for a resolution. Boeheim has been around and knows as much about the system as anyone. But even he had absolutely no idea what the NCAA timetable was. Zero.
They say it will be soon, he’d tell me one day. No, wait, it won’t be before the end of the season. I haven’t even testified yet. Okay, they just called me. Won’t be long. Wait…not we get an answer for a while. Now I hear it’s coming.
On and on it went.
And you have to understand: This investigation had been going on for seven years. SEVEN YEARS, never mind the fact that the investigation had begun when Syracuse self-reported violations. The Hunt and Liddy clown posse broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at Watergate on June 17, 1972, and Woodward and Bernstein had the damn thing all but figured out by June of ’73. It is simply unconscionable that an investigation that so affects the very soul of a sports program takes this long.
Do I know precisely the NCAA’s modus operandi, how it chooses witnesses, how it tracks them down, how it organizes its interviews? No, not precisely, because no one outside of the organization does. But that M.O. is clearly so epically flawed as to be a disgrace.
As uncertainty swirled around last season during our book taping sessions, my position with Boeheim was that we had to say something about it, if only because specifics of the NCAA investigation had already appeared in numerous media reports. He talked freely about a previous NCAA probation, one that helped precipitate Cuse’s oft-remembered loss to 15th-seed Richmond in the 1991 NCAA tournament, but balked at saying much about this one.
“You’re not understanding me,” said Boeheim with growing irritation. “I CAN’T talk about it. You are forbidden by NCAA rules to even acknowledge you are being investigated.”
Indeed, this is the conundrum—well, one of them—presented by protracted NCAA investigations: Information damaging to your program invariably leaks out—that’s what happens after seven years—but administrators, coaches and players can’t defend themselves. It’s a rigged system. Eventually, I coaxed Boeheim into discussing a few specifics of the investigation although—and this bears repeating—nothing that had not already been published.
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And when the book came out? Sure enough, Boeheim got into hot water at Syracuse for having said ANYTHING.
The absurdity of it is mind-boggling.
“The investigation is on my mind every day,” Boeheim said during our taping sessions. “It wears on you. You try to do everything absolutely right, but that doesn’t mean everybody else did. You simply cannot overestimate how difficult it is on the coaches, the players, the whole program when there’s an NCAA investigation hanging over you for this long.” When University Chancellor Kent Syverud said in a statement that “the process has been exhaustive,” he was not hyperbolizing.
Let me make a couple things clear:
Don’t look here for the specifics of the investigation because I don’t know all of them. Such was the extent of Boeheim’s paranoia about the investigation that he was loathe to even discuss it with his biographer, on or off the record.
Second, I’m not going to declare that Boeheim, and by extension Syracuse, didn’t make a single mistake. They probably did. But my own belief is that when everything comes to light, the extent of their infractions will not measure up to:
A—The fact that the investigation took seven years.
B—The fact that the punishment—which will include at least prohibition from 2015 postseason play, Syracuse’s self-imposed penalty—ended up hurting only players who had absolutely nothing to do with the infractions, young men who were in eighth or ninth grade when this investigation started.
This is not to suggest that college sports should be Dodge City. There has to be rules that prohibit, say, the kind of fullscale academic scandal that has ensnared one of the nation’s best universities, North Carolina. But investigations that take seven years and punish athletes who had nothing to do with infractions are a major part of the problem in this bloated, hypocritical major-college sports system … of which the imperious overpaid NCAA suits are a major part.