Amid Drug Scandal, Syracuse Readies For Big East Tournament
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WFAN/AP) — Just another day at the office for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. A light afternoon workout for his second-ranked Orange, then off to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament.
After the university said it had self-reported possible violations of its internal drug policy and that an NCAA inquiry was under way, the team’s focus was on basketball as it has been all through a memorable yet troubled season.
The Orange are favored to take the Big East title. After a double bye, they’ll tip off Thursday against today’s winner between UConn and West Virginia.
Though practice was closed Tuesday as it had been early in the season after associate head coach Bernie Fine was fired amid allegations of sexual abuse, the workout was punctuated by smiles, clapping and a tinge of intensity.
Boeheim deferred questions to the sports information department and the Orange (30-1) will not be available to reporters until they play Thursday in Manhattan.
The latest twist in a season of off-the-court problems surfaced Monday in a report by Yahoo Sports that said at least 10 Syracuse basketball players since 2001 had tested positive for a banned recreational substance or substances. The report, which cited anonymous sources, said all 10 players were allowed to practice and play at times when they should have been suspended by the athletic department, including instances when some may not have known of their own ineligibility. The report did not identify who tested positive.
The university contacted the NCAA about the drug violations more than a year ago.
Though athletic director Daryl Gross said none of the players on the current roster were involved, the report didn’t sit well with supporter Rick Olszewski as he watched Tuesday’s practice in the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.
“Why take away anything from this bunch? Leave us alone!” Olszewski said as he stared through the glass that houses the Orange’s 2003 national championship trophy. “I think it’s a shame. The timing couldn’t be any worse. I don’t think it’s fair to the team. What they overcame at the beginning of the season is a tribute to their focus. Now, they’re trying to mess with their focus again. This team deserves better. It’s almost like it’s on purpose.”
Yahoo said it reviewed Syracuse’s student-athlete drug policies dating to the 2000-01 school year. Reporters detailed the athletic department’s protocol for handling positive tests, including a penalty structure for a player’s first, second and third offense.
The Yahoo report said Syracuse violated its drug policy by failing to properly count positive tests and playing ineligible players after they should have been subject to suspension. Two sources said that of the 10 players, at least one continued to play after failing four tests and another played after failing three.
All of this comes in the aftermath of the firing of Fine. He was accused of sexual molestation by a former Orange ball boy and his stepbrother. While charges have yet to be filed against Fine, he was fired in late November and the investigation into the charges is still under way.
Boeheim and the university also are facing a separate defamation lawsuit filed by the former ball boys — Bobby Davis and Mike Lang — related to comments the head coach made when charges against Fine were publicly aired in November.
The team responded by winning a school-record 30 games in the regular season, going 19-0 at home in the Carrier Dome and matching the Big East mark of 17 wins set in 1995-96 by Connecticut. The Orange enter the postseason a virtual lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and with visions of a trip to the title game — it would be Boeheim’s fourth in his 36 years at the helm — still very much in focus.
Losing that focus doesn’t seem likely. After all, they weathered the Fine storm through the regular season.
And one thing’s for sure: Many of the students on Tuesday didn’t seem fazed by the news at all, as they braced for another run through March.
In the Schine Student Center on campus, Kari McCann was busy folding a second wave of orange T-shirts with 19-0 and Syracuse March Madness emblazoned on the front. McCann, soon to be a graduate student in social work, hadn’t heard the latest news when asked by a reporter, nor had another student outside as he darted between classes.
A block away at the Varsity, an off-campus restaurant where students always seem to be lined up for a slice of pizza, the DePaul-Connecticut game in the first round of the Big East tournament was up on the big-screen TV as Bobby Eilers sat down for lunch in one of the blue-and-orange chairs (Syracuse’s school colors) at every table. He, too, wasn’t happy about the latest turn of events at his school after only finding out about it in the morning.
“I hope it’s not true,” said Eilers, a senior co-captain on the Syracuse men’s lacrosse team. “It’s a scandal-ridden season. They don’t need to focus on this.”
It doesn’t appear like they are.
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