Longtime Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim will be suspended for nine games next season and the school will lose three basketball scholarships each year for the next four years as consequences of the NCAA’s finding that the university’s athletic department violated a multitude of rules related to money, drugs, and schoolwork. Other penalties will include fines and the symbolic “vacation” of basketball and football wins; the basketball team has also already voluntarily suspended itself from postseason play this season.
In an era in which marijuana is often legal and many people believe some college athletes should be paid openly, it’s likely the violations related to players’ academic work that fans and observers will find most galling. As Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky notes, basketball program staffers are accused of systematically sending in homework assignments and corresponding with professors on behalf of players by literally logging into those players’ email accounts and impersonating them:
Syracuse had this down to a science. pic.twitter.com/Owpv2DWpyf— Barry Petchesky (@barryap1) March 6, 2015
The case against formally paying revenue-producing college athletes—which Boeheim has made forcefully in public—argues that players are already well-compensated for their efforts because their scholarships provide them a free education. Said Boeheim: “Our players get a $50,000 education ... get the scholarship, get the grades, get their education, get the chance to play basketball and then get to start life without any debt.” That argument breaks down when teams and schools make no real effort to educate their players or, worse, actively encourage malfeasance that keeps some athletes funtionally illiterate. And, of course, the NCAA alleges that Syracuse has compensated players with money—it’s just done it surreptitiously, in a way that puts athletes’ eligibility at risk and doesn’t commit the university to a legally enforceable contract:
The report details an improper relationship between a Syracuse booster and members of the football and basketball program. The booster reportedly provided over $8,000 in cash to three football players and two basketball players at the school for volunteering at a local YMCA.
Despite Boeheim’s stated opposition to a formal compensation system, he’s on the record as early as Darcy Frey’s 1994 basketball book The Last Shot defending the practice of under-the-table payments.
For Boeheim and Syracuse, that kind of cavalier attitude toward rules is now a big deal indeed.