Boy, timing really is everything, isn’t it? I’ve had an article written up, just ready to go at a moment’s notice, based on the speculation I’d been reading and hearing for weeks about the possible punishments for the Syracuse basketball team in the wake of the NCAA investigation into alleged academic shenanigans. So of course, news breaks when I just happen to be out, running between two different pharmacies, picking up two different prescriptions for my wife and my son. Come on, Syracuse. You couldn’t have self-imposed your punishment an hour later, when I was in front of a computer?
Of course by now, you’ve no doubt heard that Syracuse University has self-imposed a postseason ban for the current basketball season, knocking the Orange out of not just any potential NCAA Tournament berth, but also an appearance in the ACC Tournament, as well as the NIT. Basically, when Syracuse plays at NC State on March 7, that’s the last time we’ll see the Orange take the court until November.
Like I said, timing is everything. The one piece of silver lining that I suppose we can look at here is the fact that this wasn’t a Syracuse team that was built for a postseason run, and probably wasn’t going to make it to the Big Dance at all. Sitting at 15-7 with the toughest part of the schedule yet to come, this was a team that was the very definition of being on the outside looking in. If we were going to miss a postseason, this was the postseason to miss.
But on the flipside of that whole timing thing, it genuinely sucks for the players on this team that they don’t even get a chance to play for a berth from this point forward. In particular, Rakeem Christmas has to be considered a victim right now.
I mean, there’s no two ways about it. Rakeem Christmas got utterly screwed by people who came before him, despite the fact that he’s proven himself to be the very epitome of a student-athlete over the course of his career. This is a kid who graduated in three years. He’s a finalist for the Allstate Good Works Team for his off the court volunteer and charity work. And on a more personal note, my aunt and uncle have sat with him at the end of the year banquet that follows the conclusion of each season, and there’s never been a player they’ve raved about as much as Rakeem. They’ve sat with Baye Keita and Arinze Onuaku, but no one player has ever endeared himself as much as Christmas.
It sucks right now that Syracuse has to suffer this postseason ban during Rakeem’s senior season. He deserves better. The whole team deserves better, really. It’s unfair that a team that features a group of guys who are, by all accounts, high character, hard working kids, has to suffer because of the idiocy of players who came before them.
I’m not pointing fingers right now. It doesn’t serve any purpose, because despite the fact that we all have a pretty good idea about the culprits behind these allegations, what’s done is done. It’s just unfortunate that, in typical, asinine wisdom, the punishment gets doled out not to the players who were involved, but to the kids who came after.
As Jim Boeheim said in a statement:
“I am very disappointed that our basketball team will miss the opportunity to play in the post-season this year. Senior Rakeem Christmas has been an outstanding member of the team for the past four years. However, I supported this decision and I believe the University is doing the right thing by acknowledging that past mistakes occurred. Our players have faced adversity and challenges before. I know they will rise to this challenge by keeping our program strong and continuing to make our University proud.”
Now, we need to keep in mind, these sanctions were not handed down by the NCAA. This was an effort by the University to head them off at the pass, so to speak, and the findings of the NCAA’s investigation are still forthcoming. This should be enough of a punishment to appease the NCAA, but then again – who knows? This is an organization with a long history of basically making stuff up as it goes along, and then backtracking or adding more punishments for seemingly arbitrary reasons.
So it really does remain important to remember that just because punishment is in place, that doesn’t necessarily mean this is the end of the road. With any luck, the NCAA will decide this is fitting enough for the “crime” in question, and that will be that. But further sanctions, such as loss of scholarships or forfeiture of wins, could be coming down the road.
Two things are certain, though. The first is that it’s utterly ludicrous that a kid like Rakeem Christmas has to have his senior season sullied like this when he’s done absolutely nothing wrong. The second is that, if the NCAA tries to come at Syracuse with vacated wins or lost scholarships, the University had sure as hell better be prepared to fight it. There’s no world, universe, or dimension in which it makes sense that Jim Boeheim should lose wins because a couple of idiots screwed up academically, while Joe Paterno’s wins are restored despite the fact that he was harboring a serial child molester.
But then again, this is the NCAA. There’s no rhyme or reason for what they decide, or why. That’s the sad reality of the situation, and it’s a discussion for another time. In the meantime, if you’re a Syracuse fan, be sure to continue to root on this Orange team. These kids haven’t done a thing wrong, and they’ll go out there and continue to work their tails off to try to win some basketball games. They deserve your support. Don’t let them down.