It has become fashionable for critics to treat the NCAA and especially its committee on infractions like a piñata, labeling it "hypocritical.'' But when the committee issued its scathing 94-page report on rules violations committed by the Syracuse athletic program, it effectively labeled legendary Orange basketball coach Jim Boeheim with a vile name: "cheater.''
This is a time when the giant college athletic corporations have reached "too big to fail" stage because of the enormous revenue they generate. Recognizing the threat to its own survival, the NCAA has moved toward a model that allows Division I athletic programs to begin paying more "costs of education" that go beyond scholarships to student-athletes to defray the costs of travel and food, among other things.
Yet in an era when critics are calling for athletes to receive their fair share of revenue, the NCAA still draws the line at preserving academic integrity.
Laugh if you like. It's fair to assume violations occur all the time at institutions large and small in order to keep "student-athletes" eligible.
In Boeheim's case, however, many of the academic abuses have been documented along with the athletic department's failure to follow its own drug policy and instances in which athletes received improper compensation through a program instituted by the chief operating officer of a Syracuse YMCA and a booster affiliated with that program.
The monetary violations come off as relatively small potatoes. Five athletes were paid a total of $8,335, the NCAA found. But it should be cause for alarm that a YMCA account from which payments were made received deposits totaling more than $300,000 from May 2004 to July 2005, according to the NCAA report, which said: "The investigation was unable to determine the source of the funds or the exact extent of the funds' use . . . [but] no one disputes it was used to make payments to student-athletes."
Nor is it especially surprising that Boeheim and athletic director Darryl Gross admitted to the NCAA that athletes who tested positive for banned substances were allowed to continue playing in violation of the school's drug policy procedures.
What is most troubling, however, are the results of a forensic investigation that showed several student-athletes benefited from academic coursework allegedly prepared for them by student support services tutors and mentors and submitted from the athletes' computers under their names.
The report identifies the athletes only by number, but the details of an incident late in the 2011-12 season correspond with the circumstances surrounding the on-again, off-again eligibility issues surrounding 7-foot center Fab Melo.
In January of that season, Syracuse was undefeated and ranked No. 1 when Melo's academic eligibility came into question.
The report details pressure brought to bear by the head basketball coach and the AD to have a particular paper revised, turned in and graded in time to preserve the athlete's eligibility. Melo was suspended, then reinstated and finally suspended again for the NCAA Tournament.
The Orange, which had a No. 1 seed, lost in the East Regional final. The academic report was determined by the NCAA to have been created by someone other than "student-athlete 7."
Boeheim has been suspended for nine ACC games next season, has been forced to vacate 108 wins (dropping him from second on the all-time Division I list to sixth) and will lose 12 scholarships over four years. Predictably, he issued a statement deflecting the blame to former director of basketball operations Stan Kissel, whom the NCAA identified as Boeheim's "point man for academics," and saying the booster associated with the YMCA program engaged in impermissible activities without his knowledge.
The school has expressed support for Boeheim.
He has raised SU's profile nationally and driven its athletic program.
Boeheim can say he was looking the other way, but as the NCAA said, he was responsible as the one who "failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor the activities of his staff when his director of operations freely committed academic fraud."
That's on Boeheim, and it always will be.