Days after an NCAA committee asserted he didn't promote an atmosphere of compliance within Syracuse's men's basketball program, Orange coach Jim Boeheim rebuked the NCAA's investigation into his team in wide-ranging press conference on the morning of the first day of the NCAA tournament.
Repeatedly altering between tones of earnest explanation and annoyed defiance, Boeheim said he accepted responsibility for the conduct of individuals in his program, but also stressed his lack of involvement in making decisions at the intersection of academics and athletics at the school. Boeheim referred to the penalties as unduly harsh and said he would appeal the NCAA's ruling, suggesting the penalties were a personal attack on him.
"The committee on infractions has asserted that for the past 10 years, I did not promote an atmosphere of compliance within the basketball program and I did not monitor the activities regarding compliance of those within the program," Boeheim said in a prepared statement. "This could not be further from the truth.
"I'm not throwing any programs under the bus, but there are programs that don't have compliance meetings all year. We have monthly ones," Boeheim said. "This is far from a program where student-athletes freely committed academic fraud."
Last week, the NCAA issued sanctions against the coach and his program following a 10-year investigation, resulting in the vacation of 108 wins and the loss of 12 basketball scholarships. Boeheim was suspended for nine Atlantic Coast Conference games in the 2015 season.
"It's a myth that I somehow run things at Syracuse University," Boeheim said.
"I assure you if I did I wouldn't be the 45th highest paid coach in the country. Which I'm not complaining about."
A large portion of the press conference reflected on the intricacies of a term paper turned in by former Syracuse player Fab Melo during the 2011-12 school year. Part of the NCAA's investigation centered around whether Melo's paper, a 10-page reflection on his own life, had the proper citations in it.
"They asked how he could write something in two days. I think I could write that in four hours," Boeheim said, referring to the NCAA committee on infractions. "I don't think he got that from somebody else. I wrote a 17-page paper on the American Revolution in one night. It had 32 citations."
Boeheim said that the school refused to 'process' Melo's paper, and that he did not press the school to change its mind because it is not his role to interfere in academics. As a result, Melo was ruled academically ineligible for an upcoming game Syracuse had against West Virginia. Boeheim said he urged Melo to work with a counselor and seek a grade change so that he could be returned to eligibility.
"That's my responsibility to inform him so that he can be eligible. I think that's very normal. I think that's what other students do," he said.
The coach also addressed the stigma that Syracuse admits academically unqualified players. Specifically referring to African-American players Melo and Rakeem Christmas, and declining to identify anyone who has alleged claims of academic impropriety against the university, Boeheim called these allegations false.
"I think there's a little racism involved when they start talking about not taking this guy, not taking that guy. We shouldn't have somebody here because he's from a foreign country?"
While Boeheim also reaffirmed his announcement Wednesday that he would retire in three years, he also left room for flexibility that he could depart from the program sooner.
"When this started there was a two, three-year time frame. There would have been no way I would have ever run away from an investigation in progress. The fact that it continued, there was no way I was ever going to leave this university. This was the focus of my life," he said in response to questions at the end of the conference.
"If I'm not effective after the end of next year, I won't coach after next year."
Boeheim noted that he would have strongly considered retiring after Syracuse's Final Four run in 2012 had the NCAA's investigation not still been pending.
The press conference came one day after Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross announced he would resign his post but remain with the university in a different role. A Syracuse University chancellor said Gross believed his transition would allow Syracuse Athletics to move forward and position itself for continued future success.
- Will Green