It’s the absolute peak of college basketball season, and it still seems weird to be almost completely disconnected from the game. This is not, by the way, the result of any principled objection to the manifest hypocrisies of the NCAA, or anything like that, but a practical effect of having kids. If the tv is on, it’s either showing one of their cartoon shows or drowned out by the pleading for cartoon shows. And by the time they’re asleep at night, I’m generally too wiped out to watch anything.
But as a long-time fan, though, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about what’s been going on in Syracuse, where the basketball program has been slammed with a bunch of penalties, and head coach Jim Boeheim stripped of a bunch of wins over a bunch of NCAA violations. Fortunately, the Pattern of Basketball blog has said much of what I would say:
In the wake of a scandal involving widespread academic fraud in his program, Syracuse is at one of its lowest points in Jim Boeheim’s 39-year tenure as the basketball coach. Will the team be able to survive the scholarship limits? Would the school really have to start thinking about pushing out such a legendary coach? Would his legacy be tarnished? The NCAA is stripping him of over 100 total victories – he is being publicly shamed in a way that it’s hard to see every happening to guys like Coach K and Roy Williams. The difference between Boeheim and those guys is he doesn’t pretend to be an idealist. He’s a professional cynic. He has had to be to survive in a Siberian outpost like Syracuse. He knows his job is about getting wins.
The Roy Williams mention is especially important, since there’s also an unfolding scandal at North Carolina involving wrongdoing that was much more widespread and systematic than the violations they managed to scrape up at Syracuse. That’s more a football problem than a basketball one, but basketball wasn’t wholly innocent.
But, as the post says, Boeheim’s getting hammered in large part because while he’s always been a little cranky, since winning the 2003 national championship, he’s started to be almost openly contemptuous of the NCAA. And that, not getting receptionists to write papers for students, is the real way to draw sanctions down on your program.
(I would add one thing to this that I haven’t seen brought up elsewhere, which is that I sort of suspect that this all ultimately traces back to the Bernie Fine mess, in two ways. One is that the sexual abuse allegations against Fine on the heels of the Penn State debacle really pissed the NCAA off, and Boeheim’s initial strong defense of Fine didn’t help. More importantly, though, my impression of the program has always been that Boeheim isn’t the most detail-oriented guy, and that Fine was responsible for a lot of the day-to-day operation. Stuff like, you know, making sure that players did all the things they needed to avoid running afoul of NCAA rules. And the violations that led to the sanctions mostly happened in the period when allegations started being made against Fine– I haven’t compared the two timelines directly, but I know there was an internal investigation a couple of years before the public blow-up, and I think the timing sort of fits.)
More interesting than the scandal commentary, though, is the Pattern of Basketball’s discussion of Jim Boeheim’s program on a basketball level, specifically the ever-popular 2-3 zone:
The NBA will reach down to smaller schools for stars and big men. If you are a role player, they might as well just draft you from one of the top programs, one of the schools they know regularly churns out NBA-level talent. Everyone puts Syracuse in that category because they win so many games. However, take a look at the Syracuse players drafted since the turn of the millennium and tell me if you notice a trend:
[list elided for length]
To paraphrase Jay-Z, that’s one hot album every ten year average. Most NBA observers look at this list and think that Boeheim isn’t preparing guys for the next level. What they aren’t seeing is that Boeheim and his players have been systematically defrauding NBA teams that can’t see the difference between a player’s statistical averages and his skill-set. Does Dion Waiters get drafted at No. 4 overall if he’s forced to play man defense in college? More importantly, if Waiters is forced to play man defense for 40 minutes, is his team one of the top teams in the country?
I think he’s a little too enamored of the NBA (which I really don’t care for), a little too down on the zone in general, and things like “McDonald’s All-Americans” are highly problematic for talent evaluation, but the general point that Boeheim is maximizing the talent he has available is a good one, and one often missed. And it’s phrased in a pretty amusing way. So go read the whole post, if you have any interest in basketball.