By Jason Keidel
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Between the normal pomp of a Final Four and the personality of its participants, it should make the banter between coaches and reporters rather meaty this weekend.
Especially questions hurled at Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who was benched for nine games during the regular season for NCAA indiscretions. It may feel like every media member is a Syracuse grad, but Boeheim will not skate from his myriad pressers.
Almost every high-end competition needs a hero and a villain. Cam Newton was cast in the black hat for his histrionics and unapologetic ways, while Peyton Manning was the sheriff, riding into retirement a champion. When the Spurs played the Heat in the NBA Finals, it was homespun, homestead basketball against the evil Dream Team alchemy of LeBron James.
In this cluster of college basketball games, Syracuse could be the bad boys of the Final Four, for a litany of legal issues that have faced the basketball program.
But if you look across the court, at the Orange’s opponent Saturday, you will hardly see divine white inside the Carolina blue of the Tar Heels, who have some issues of their own.
Indeed, if you listen to NCAA president Mark Emmert, perhaps the only reason North Carolina is in the Final Four is because the investigation into the program is not quite complete.
The University of North Carolina allegedly ran a sham of a curriculum, keeping big-time athletes an arm’s length from the classroom. If you ever watched HBO’s “Real Sports,” you saw a haunting segment on the school, during which Tar Heels players were locked in bogus classes, according to the report. A football player from another school (Memphis) said he literally taught himself to read using his lean library of Dr. Seuss books (seriously).
This is not to engage in moral relativism. Syracuse has issues. But no school is spotless. There’s just too much money in college athletics for it to be incorruptible. Gold mines spawn their own armies, and their own bandits. And, as is the case most times, the young men who play the game will pay while those who perpetuate the permissive, college culture tend to skate.
North Carolina will feel the NCAA sword at some point this year. At least the athletes will, for transgressions between 1993 and 2011, the time frame established by a former member of the U.S. Justice Department. So let’s say the Tar Heels are forbidden from March Madness next year. Why are the players, none of whom were enrolled before 2012, paying for it?
It’s a debate that transcends this piece. But it’s timeless and tiring to see coaches bail on burning programs while the kids are left to put out the fire, if not burn in it. And it’s not likely to change.
All of this is to say that if you went to Syracuse, you have every right to root gleefully for your alma mater this weekend. Just as Carolina grads have the same right. Your school pride is probably clean, as are the kids you’re rooting for, even if they will pay for the sins of their predecessors.
The Orange are the first 10th seed to reach the Final Four. Leading the cheerleading charge is Carmelo Anthony, who helped Boeheim bag his only national title 13 years ago. This is the one time I won’t bash Melo for something he does vis-a-vis basketball. In fact, Syracuse alums should join his throaty fervor in the Final Four.
There will be plenty of time to pay for it, even if you did nothing wrong.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel