Syracuse, N.Y. -- Has anybody told the Syracuse University basketball team that it's supposed to be a bit down this season?
Except for their one-year ban by the NCAA from postseason competition, life seems very normal for the Orangemen. Their crazed fans are piling into the Carrier Dome. They have one of the Big East's blue-chip freshmen, John Wallace, in the starting lineup. And, going into tonight's game against UMBC, they are undefeated and ranked 14th in the country.
Still, it's hard to convince longtime coach Jim Boeheim that his program, as well as his reputation, hasn't been damaged. Boeheim, who has been known to whine almost as much as he wins, said that the three-year investigation was as detrimental as the penalty handed down by the NCAA in early October.
Syracuse was given two years' probation in basketball for committing 24 violations, which included providing small cash gifts and free meals for players and illegal transportation for players and recruits. Meanwhile, the school's lacrosse and wrestling programs also were penalized -- some believe even more harshly -- for administrative foul-ups regarding scholarship limitations.
Still, Boeheim apparently doesn't believe that Syracuse has become the Teflon team of college basketball.
"The NCAA is not about giving out light penalties," Boeheim said last month. "You take a team out of the [NCAA] tournament that's been in the tournament 10 straight years. We lost scholarships. We lost one or two high school All-Americans. We can't recruit [off-campus] for six months. I'm so sick and tired of guys like [television analyst Dick] Vitale saying we got a slap on the wrist."
But Boeheim said that it could have been worse. The penalties could have been as severe as they were at the University of Kentucky and at the University of Maryland. Both of those basketball programs were put on probation for three years, banished from postseason competition for two and knocked off live television for one.
In fact, the day the penalties were announced, Boeheim told the Syracuse Herald-Journal: "We did, basically, skate. Everybody predicted worse. Shows you what they [reporters] know. We're too big a fish, too big for it to take this long and not have something happen. So, yes, I thought this would happen. I never thought we'd get away with nothing happening -- NCAAs and TV. But it was possible."
Said Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel: "The actions taken by the Committee on Infractions were consistent with the recommendations we made through summary disposition [a process by which the university investigates itself and offers penalties]. We weren't really surprised."
The NCAA's Committee on Infractions wasn't the only one to take it easy on Syracuse. Not only will the Orangemen be on television this season, but the presidents of the Big East schools also recently ruled that Syracuse would be eligible to play in the league's postseason tournament. That decision incensed more than a few college administrators throughout the country.
It's money that matters
Several Division I athletic directors said the Big East's decision showed how much financial ramifications came into play. Syracuse, with the largest on-campus facility in the country, is the league's biggest moneymaker. It also draws the most fans to the Big East tournament in New York.
"You know they weren't going to get nailed," said one East Coast athletic director.
But Syracuse got nailed.
Ask Roy Simmons Jr.
Boeheim is the third-winningest active Division I coach in the country, but Simmons is merely a legend. The coach of Syracuse's national powerhouse lacrosse team for the past 22 years, Simmons is the only man in his sport ever to win four national championships. He is a member of the sport's Hall of Fame. His father, Roy Sr., preceded his son as coach. For 40 years.
"This has been my life," said Simmons, sitting in his office across the hall from Boeheim's at Manley Field House.
Since the NCAA announced its penalties for Syracuse, that life has been turned upside down. The basketball team lost one scholarship for each of the next two years, but the lacrosse team lost three scholarships for each of the next three years. But it could be worse: The wrestling team lost 2 1/2 scholarships for each of the next four years.
Problems in lacrosse
The same internal investigation that discovered basketball players were receiving $50 cash gifts in Christmas cards from a prominent local booster, free meals at a local restaurant and transportation for recruits by an alleged street agent from New York City also came to the conclusion that things were amiss in lacrosse and wrestling.