Sad, miffed and still slightly confused about Syracuse Orange and college sports in general

Even at this early season game, my dear wife Karen and I were into the Syracuse Orange along with 20,000 other fans.

Even at this early season game, my dear wife Karen and I were into the Syracuse Orange along with 20,000 other fans.

I’ve let this news of my hometown Syracuse University’s self-imposed penalty of no post-season play for the Orange men’s basketball squad swim around in my head and gut a couple of days before attempting to make sense of how this makes me feel about college sports, life in general in this college city and how the two relate.

There are a lot of moving parts to the reasons behind the decision made by the highest officials, approved by the Chancellor, best digested by starting with this story breaking word of the news on syracuse.com by reporter John O’Brien. The short version is that the NCAA and Syracuse officials have been in discussion for years about improprieties regarding the intercollegiate body’s rules regarding academics and possibly payment of student athletes. A hearing commenced several months ago, and both basketball coach Jim Boeheim and football coach Scott Shafer were including in those discussions. However, stories then and since say none of the players on the current teams were involved in these violations.

The NCAA has yet to issue its findings and possible penalties. This self-imposed ban is seen as a way for Syracuse officials to fall on the sword, prove that they know wrong was done and mean it when they say codes and people are in place to make sure this won’t happen again.

People were pumped as Syracuse hosted defending national champion Florida State.

People were pumped as Syracuse hosted defending national champion Florida State.

For a few days, everybody was talking about Syracuse’s decision. And they were not happy. The biggest beef seems to be that the current basketball players, particularly star senior center Rakeem Christmas, would not get to play in the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament, though they had nothing at all to do with any of the wrongdoing that caused all this grief. And Christmas is attempting to show NBA scouts that he’s good enough to play in The League after three college seasons of less-than-that inspiring performances.

I wanted to hear what my Thursday night bowling league teammates Randy and Steve had to say about it, because they’re both devoted Orange followers, and Steve also manages the Jimmy Johns franchise on the SU hill, with a direct connection to students and game day fans.

They agreed with the prevailing notion that Syracuse higher-ups wanted the basketball ban to come this year because recruits are in place to make next year’s squad poised for better things than this one, which may not qualify for the NCAA Tournament anyway. Randy added that the football team may lose scholarships when the NCAA announces its decision, and any possible bowl ban may be moot because, well, that squad wasn’t good enough to make a bowl this season anyway.

We three talked about how these basketball players, the big three of Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije, will play hard for the rest of this regular ACC season because this is it, they’ve got something to prove.

My dear wife Karen and I still plan to go to the Palace Theatre on James Street, a couple blocks up from our Little Bitty in the Syracuse city neighborhood of Eastwood, to watch Syracuse’s game against Duke on the big movie screen, just like we did last year. Because it was fun to be in the full movie theater, and spirited, and the next best thing to being in the packed Carrier Dome with 35,000 people.

I’m still planning to buy our season tickets for Orange football in the Carrier Dome for the seventh year in a row, too. We love those fall Saturdays together as part of that community feeling.

Of course, the NCAA could come down with some really harsh news and wipe all of that out if the violations are worse than what’s been reported. There is a death penalty on the books. It’s happened before, the most famous being SMU’s ban from playing football in 1987 and 1988.

Highly unlikely.

Yet let’s not forget that Syracuse has been penalized harshly by the NCAA previously, banned from postseason basketball play, in fact, in the 1992-93 season. That’s history the NCAA officials may consider.

It’s definitely something that makes me angry at both sides of the aisle. The NCAA still has a rulebook that doesn’t allow players to earn an ancillary buck here or there like their fellow students do with odd jobs that take the same amount of hours as all that practicing, travel and game time. And Syracuse set up plans with good intentions back then, but somehow over the years slippage somehow occured and the NCAA had to be brought in again to hear the why’s and new fixes.

I’ve written about my pay-the-student-athlete plan before, with the goal that they should make the same per-hour paid as the student on work-study cleaning the cafeteria. I wrote it when college football players at Northwestern fought to start a union early in 2014. A story in the New York Times in early January details small gains being made.

Regarding grades and class attendance, of course there should be no fudging in the tutor-scholar relationship. But the pressure to win, recruit the best athletes, build attendance, keep a community happy, bankroll the department through alumni donations, keep performance sharp enough to earn dazzling TV contracts … doesn’t all of that tie in to keeping star players academically eligible? And aren’t we, as a society, the ones that feed this need with our endless support and acceptance of the status quo?

Yes, I’m still in, but I’m not as thrilled as I was three days ago. The right change can be great. The four-team football playoff made things better this season, in my book.

Are you a college sports fan no matter what? Are college scholarships enough of a payment for student athletes, or do you think they deserve and need spending money, too? Do you have any ideas to better the college sports system?

40 thoughts on “Sad, miffed and still slightly confused about Syracuse Orange and college sports in general

  1. A very complex issue, Mark. I realize that a little allowance would help some of these kids meet day to day expenses, but I don’t really trust anyone currently in charge to administer pay. I fear they would find ways to pay more to the most talented athletes and recruiting would become even more of bidding war than it already is. But it may be too late to preserve any innocence in big time college athletics anyway, so who knows? I’m just waiting for my team to learn to make a free throw.

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    • The pay would have to be doled out by some central adminitration set up, maybe by the President. Really, that high up, to preserve the integrity, like you say.

      And my alma mater is on the Big Ten road skids right now, too. Oy.

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  2. i’m a college sports fan and agree with your payment plan concept, it would eliminate a lot of potential shady issues and questionable choices. i’m still a fan no matter what, but get frustrated with the system at times, too.

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  3. Mark … It is more than disappointing that students who were not part of this problem are being punished.

    Student athletes’ performance benefits Syracuse University and other colleges. They should be compensated more. A few have left college early to go pro. For some, like Carmello Anthony, that was a great decision. For others, like Dwayne “The Pearl” Washington, it didn’t work out. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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  4. I of course, had no idea about all this happening but you are right about it being more complicated than it seems. The players do need spending money so it’s crazy that they can’t earn any. It’s too bad that all this has to happen.

    I’ve been watching some of the Nova games when my daughter asks me to look for her on TV. ๐Ÿ™‚ She’s having a blast being part of this whole college basketball culture and like most of us, is oblivious to the ins and outs of the programs and how the players are affected.

    Sorry this puts a major damper on your beloved sporting events! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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    • It will be a bit of a bummer when the ACC Tournament is going on without Syracuse, and the NCAA Tournament (if Syracuse finishes strong). I’ll have to concentrate on my Maryland Terps alma mater instead, Mrs. B, but it’s not the same as the whole city coming behind a team at that time of year. Your daughter I’m sure is experiencing the all-in culture at Villanova right now. I loved it at Maryland back in … well, in the wayback.

      Yes, the bad part of college sports is when scholarship athletes from less-prosperous families just don’t have any spending money. One, it could make them more susceptible to accepting money illegally from boosters, and two, it could make them leave college early to go pro even if they love college and want that education.

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  5. It stinks. And I feel bad for our WAER seniors who were looking forward to some post season broadcast. Not that I find glee in any of this, but the silver lining for me is that I save money in my travel budget.

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    • Yes, I feel for the WAER broadcast seniors as part of the team, too, Joe. They are hard-working student journalists. I was one of those a long time ago at Maryland, and I know how important it is to shape careers. They’ll have to kick it up in the remaining regular season games, much like the Syracuse players, and save those clips for their job interviews. As far as your travel budget goes, I know there’s always next season.

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  6. we don’t have this dilemma here – universities don’t offer scholarships for baketball players or footballers – totally different way of trying to get sport stars and maybe that shows itself when we get to the olympics and we don’t have the same number of top athletes as you guys. Funding for sports here is very hit and miss even with national lottery funding. It is only in recent years that athletes in britain have been able to train full time while the state provides some funding. Without that you don’t get many winners.
    So i think you are right – scholarships plus any money they can earn on a par with other students doing odd jobs sounds fair to me.

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  7. Hmm… as you know, I’m NO expert on sports. But I do think the scholarship IS the pay. If they pay more, aren’t they just driving up everyone else’s tuition?
    Now on to other matters… While I’m no sports authority, I do LOVE how there are so many people wearing orange in that photo of the fans. I like that kind of spirit, and your blog is solely what’s making me rethink my whole “phooey on sports” attitude.
    Finally, Randy and Steve? I thought we decided last year that the bowling guys needed catchy nicknames like the golf buddies have. Did they veto our decision? Perhaps we just didn’t offer up good enough names. Let’s try a few more… How about Scooter and Beans? Or Emu and Skully? Of course Smitty and Gizmo are always winners, unless of course, you want any of those for yourself? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • A lot of these athletes find themselves in a college situation with no spending money at all for incidentals … pizza or beer with friends or dates, say … and no time or permission to have jobs during the season to earn any. So yes, the scholarship and dorm and food is pay, but still there is an uneven playing field with some students in that area. And the money could come from those TV conctracts, I think.

      I forgot about going for bowling nicknames. Other than Tiny, these guys go by their real names, Rachel!

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      • Yes, but with the college athletes, if they would not have had a scholarship, isn’t it likely their parents would have had to pay or at least kicked in to send them to college? So now their parents can give them a food/party allowance. I don’t know. As I said, I’m not a sports person, so my opinion shouldn’t be counted for much.

        I think next bowling season (does bowling even have seasons?), you should go there with some different sized bowling jerseys (shirts?) with a nickname embroidered for everyone. Whatever shirt fits, that’s the name they get. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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      • If some of these athletes did not get the scholarship, they just would not be in college. Period, Rachel. Some come from very poor situations, and the scholarship allows a big start in life.

        You really want us to have bowling nicknames. Maybe next season, but not with the shirt idea. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, that stinks.. well then I guess they should get some compensation or at least get a special student loan to help with those costs until they graduate.

        Yes, I do want bowling nicknames, Sparky. ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Rhymes with Marky.)

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  8. The kids should get an allowance to put toward personal expenses, absolutely. As much as the universities make off the sports programs, the kids should be paid. No outrageous sums and there should be an accounting of what they do with the money. As good as many of the athletes are, some struggle with academics and I think it can be influential in how soon they enter the draft. They need financial planning, better media training and a pro baller that used to be in the program to come in and mentor them on the transition.

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  9. A case by case review would be more appropriate – the trouble with that is introducing a subjective perspective and that could be unfair. There are kids whose parents can afford to bankroll them and yet there are kids who are poor and can barely afford the tuition. There should be a user ability to pay criteria considered. Without that, the rich kids get more time to study and make better marks and practice more. That seems unfair to me. but you have to consider that Canada is one of those dreaded “socialist” enemies of capitalism and we often have an “ability to pay” component in any benefit or rules based decision. After all that is the only way to level out the playing field and make it fair for all.

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  10. I am a college sports fan and I don’t think they should be paid aside from good scholarships. I do think that they should be held accountable for academics in a way that they sometimes aren’t now.

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