Thursday, March 19, 2015

Slide rule

Aha. So that's what the other shoe not dropping sounds like.

It's sort of a soft sidling away from the late unpleasantness, in which Syracuse University discovered that its Hall of Fame basketball coach had been presiding over a dirty program for the last decade-and-a-half or more. It cost the school 108 victories and 12 scholarships, and it cost the coach, Jim Boeheim, a nine-game ACC sitdown next season.

Clearly Syracuse thought that was enough.

Maybe in another time, or perhaps an alternate reality, the school would have kicked Boeheim to the curb for the academic fraud running through his program, 900-some wins or not. But academic fraud apparently isn't a fireable offense anymore in college athletics, which at Syracuse's level stopped being about academics long ago.

It's a business now, and Boeheim is a rainmaking CEO. And so the school will invoke the Slide Rule and let both him and athletic director Daryl Gross up easy.

Boeheim gets to go out on his own terms, announcing yesterday that he would coach three more years and then turn the program over to longtime assistant Mike Hopkins. And while Gross (who's been around long enough to be culpable in this, too) was ousted as athletic director after 10 years, it really wasn't much of an ousting.

After all, instead of plowing through the want ads this morning, he's still employed by Syracuse. He will, the news stories reported, "transition" to vice president and special assistant to the chancellor, and become an adjunct professor in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.

I don't know what the going rate for all that is. But suffice to say he's still going to be drawing a chunky paycheck from the university.

And what's wrong with that picture?

Come on, you know: It's yet another illustration of the commercial nature of big-ticket college athletics, and how its priorities supersede everything. Paying for a recruit's cheeseburger is one thing, and it can at least be explained away as simply the way you do bidness these days in the corporate ethos of Big 5 football/basketball. But academic fraud strikes at the very heart of the alleged compact between that ethos and the stated mission of the university.

If you can't get fired for that, then does the compact still actually exist? Or is it a mere pale nod to a culture long vanished?

You know the answer to that one, too, and so do I. On the same day Syracuse rewarded Boeheim and Gross for their service to the corporate ethos (er ... university), a number popped up on my TV screen. It was $1.13 billion. That's how much advertisers spent last year on March Madness, a basketball contest among academic institutions.

And Jim Boeheim's one of the guys who've helped generate it.

How's the saying go again, sort of?

Money talks. And it'll never make you walk. 


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