It took the NCAA eight years to finish an investigation on the improprieties within Syracuse's athletic department, and the end result was one of the toughest punishments college sports has ever seen. The NCAA altered the Orange's past, present and future in handing out a penalty that includes the vacation of 108 wins from coach Jim Boeheim's record, and the loss of three scholarships per year for the next four seasons.
The scope of the NCAA's sprawling 94-page report is so massive that it's easy to lose track of the actual infractions. More than anything, the NCAA is punishing Syracuse for "a lack of institutional control" from the 2000-01 season through 2011-12.
With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to distill this case down to its most important facts. For additional coverage of the scandal, be sure to check out our Syracuse community Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.
What is Syracuse being punished for?
Syracuse is being punished for three things:
- Improper benefits
- Academic misconduct
- A failure to enforce the school's drug policy
What is the punishment?
The basketball program is losing 12 scholarships over the next four years. Boeheim was given a nine-game suspension and docked 108 career victories, which will drop him from No. 2 to No. 6 on all-time wins list. The men's basketball and football program will each be on probation for five years. The number of permissible off-campus recruiters will be trimmed from four to two starting June 1, 2015 and ending May 31, 2017.
Syracuse also has a lot of money to pay up.
How much money?
We're talking over $1 million here. The school has to return all the money it earned through revenue sharing in the old Big East for three appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 2011-2013. There's also a fine of $500 per game played by each ineligible student-athlete.
Boeheim skips press conference to avoid questions
Syracuse played its final game of the 2014-15 season on Saturday, but embattled head coach Jim Boeheim had no interest in speaking with the media afterward.
What did they do?
Syracuse is being punished for violations that spanned a decade, but a few specific incidents stand out.
1. Syracuse went to great lengths to get ineligible center Fab Melo back on the floor.
Syracuse started the 2011-12 season 20-0 and as the No. 1 team in the country. Fab Melo was the Orange's standout defensive center, but academic issues eventually ended his season just before the NCAA Tournament. When the second semester of school began, it was determined that Melo had not made enough progress towards his degree. There was a summit meeting between eight prominent members of the athletic department to figure out how to get Melo back on the floor. The result was an attempt to get a grade change from a class Melo took the previous year.
In order to get the grade change, Melo had to write a 4-5 page paper outlining the medical and personal problems he had dealt with since enrolling in school. Melo turned in the paper, but it was sent back to him because it lacked proper citation. The necessary change was made and Melo's grade was changed from a C- to a B-. He was put back on the floor before a whistleblower raised questions. Without Melo, Syracuse would get to the Elite Eight but eventually lose to Ohio State.
The NCAA's report finds that Melo didn't write the paper. The academic misconduct was pulled off with the help of director of basketball operations Stan Kissel and a receptionist named Debora Belanger. Kissel even had the password to players' email accounts and posed as the athlete in dealings with professors.
2. A group of Syracuse athletes received more than $8,000 for volunteer work at the local YMCA
Three football players and two basketball players accepted an internship at a local YMCA. The players made appearances at clinics and other events at the YMCA and were compensated with money they were never supposed to see. The payments were never reported to the school as outside income or supplemental pay. Certain players also received class credit for the internship based off false information provided by Hank Leo, the CEO of the YMCA.
The transactions at the YMCA, which should have made players ineligible, accounted for 60 of Syracuse's 101 vacated wins, according to Syracuse.com. Those players were Terrence Roberts and Billy Edelin. Edelin played for the program from 2002-05, while Roberts' college career ran from 2003-07.
3. Syracuse violated its own drug policy
Charles Robinson and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports first reported on Syracuse's drug policy failings back in 2012:
Over the course of a three-month investigation, four sources with intimate knowledge of the Syracuse men's basketball program told Yahoo! Sports at least 10 players since 2001 have tested positive for a banned recreational substance or substances. The sources said all 10 of those players were allowed to practice and play at times when they should have been suspended by the athletic department, including instances when some players may not have known of their own ineligibility. The four sources said Syracuse violated its drug policy in at least two areas: failing to properly count positive tests; and playing ineligible players after they should have been subject to suspension.
Syracuse wrote up its drug policy in 2000 and left it unchanged until 2009. On a first offense, Boeheim was supposed to hold players out of practice until he spoke with their parents. The second offense called for the player to be held out until a meeting with a team counselor to determine if they had kicked the bad habit. A third offense would have the player's scholarship removed and for him to be booted from the team.
According to the NCAA, these steps were rarely taken in order. Boeheim and athletic director each admitted to not knowing or following the policy:
Wow, Daryl Gross. "The athletics director said the department followed an 'unwritten policy' because written (drug) policy was confusing."— Michael Cohen (@Michael_Cohen13) March 6, 2015
A $300 speech cost Syracuse 45 wins
Boeheim shed light on the specifics behind the docked wins in the fall of 2016 on Doug Gottlieb's radio show.
"Most of them were about tutoring," Boeheim said to Gottlieb. "Most but not all. One was a speech for $300 where the money was re-paid but not re-instated. That one was 45 games."
What took so long?
Who knows? The NCAA certainly has had a lot of other things on its plate over the last eight years, and the sheer scale of the wrongdoings at Syracuse necessitated a thorough investigation. The NCAA also changed their punishment rules on academic fraud in the middle of the investigation, in 2012. You can see how this would all take some time to sort out, but eight years is an extraordinarily long period.
Who blew the whistle on Melo?
All we know is that it came from the College of Arts and Sciences, which is the school where Melo was enrolled. From the NCAA's report, via Syracuse.com:
"On Monday, January 30, 2012, the College of Arts and Sciences expressed concern over the grade change," the NCAA reported. "Specifically, the college questioned the timing and impact on student-athlete 7's (Fab Melo's) eligibility. The college also expressed concern that over a year had passed since student-athlete 7 completed the course."
Given the success of the team at that time and Boeheim's incredible status within the school and community, standing up for the academic standards of the university must not have been an easy thing to do. It's the central incident in the entire investigation.
Why was 2003 excluded?
Syracuse and the NCAA negotiated a statute of limitations for eligibility violations of May 4, 2003. How convenient.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 6, 2015
The NCAA has never stripped a team of a national championship in basketball and that streak remains in tact. Syracuse self-reported its first violations two years before Carmelo Anthony helped lead the Orange to their first-ever title, but the championship remains the one thing untouched in an otherwise expansive punishment.
This isn't the first time the NCAA has punished a program but decided to not take away their title. USC football received a harsh punishment for a scandal involving Reggie Bush midway throughout the last decade, but the Trojans' 2004 championship was also upheld through the sanctions.
Is this all Jim Boeheim's fault?
It depends on your point of view. The NCAA is hammering Boeheim for a "a failure to monitor", which essentially alleges he should know everything going on within the program. Boeheim said in a statement that he had no knowledge of the improprieties at the YMCA, or knowledge of the great lengths Director of Basketball Operations Stan Kissel went through to get Melo eligible.
What's next for Boeheim and Syracuse basketball?
There have been plenty of people saying Boeheim's legacy is tarnished and that he should resign. We're sure Boeheim appreciates the sentiment, but it's likely that life will go on for the 70-year-old without much change. He said his contract runs for as long as he wants to coach, and he's got a loaded recruiting class coming in next season that ranks in the top 10 nationally with four four-star players.
Syracuse will also be returning freshman big man Chris McCullough. Before McCullough suffered a season-ending knee injury, the biggest controversy surrounding Syracuse's season was Boeheim's public comments blasting mock drafts for valuing his power forward as much as they did.
The loss of scholarships will hurt, as will the loss of allowable coaches on the road. It might not signal the end of 'Cuse basketball just yet, though. Boeheim isn't going anywhere and he keeps attracting young talent.