Commentary

Saunders: Syracuse coach Boeheim 'idiotic' on issue of paying players

bsaunders@newsobserver.comFebruary 2, 2014 

Duke Syracuse Basketball

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim reacts to a play late in the second half against Duke in Syracuse.

NICK LISI — AP

Somebody check the temperature in hell.

But put on your overcoat first. And mittens.

At precisely 7:14 p.m. Saturday, I saw a Duke University basketball player hit a shot – and I didn’t curse. I cheered.

Yes, I, the dude who once lost a bet and was forced to do the Electric Slide in public while wearing a Blue Devil basketball jersey – the two things I despise most – was rooting for the Blue Devils when they played Syracuse on Saturday night.

Was it a case of ACC or regional pride?

A little bit, because no true Son of the South wanted to see a Yankee coach who looks as though he’s never eaten grits and wouldn’t appreciate them even if he did come into the conference and run the table.

There was another reason besides the Syracuse coach’s presumed gustatorial limitations to finally root for Duke: Syracuse’s fans.

Who knew there were college fans just as arrogant, self-satisfied and obnoxious as Duke’s, and a coach just as, shall we say, Coach K-ish as Coach K?

I almost crossed that Rubicon and rooted for Duke last month when the Heels and Pack both lost on the same day and it appeared that Duke would, too – a trifecta that hadn’t occurred in about 18 years, until it occurred that night. No one who thinks the best college basketball is played here wants to see the entire Big 3 take it on the chin on the same night, right?

It took Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and its fans to make rooting for Duke a reality.

An example of Syracuse fans’ arrogance: During Saturday’s game, a Creamsicle-dressed Syracuse Orange fan held aloft a sign that read “Duke is mediocre at Best.”

Now, not even the most fervent Wolfpack-worshipping or Tar Heel-loving, Blue Devil-hating fan who knows a basketball from a kumquat would make such an idiotic declaration. For one thing, hating Duke wouldn’t be such fun were it not for the team’s standard of on-court success and excellence. And its precious – to themselves, anyway – fans. Oh yeah, and that coach.

Nobody would write books about Duke basketball with titles such as “To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever” if the team were merely mediocre.

If you want to talk truly “idiotic,” it was a comment by Syracuse’s coach that deserves that title and that made rooting for Duke just this once so easy.

Asked at the beginning of the season about the possibility of paying college athletes, Boeheim said “That’s really the most idiotic suggestion of all time. ... I believe they are getting a tremendous opportunity.”

He then said something about the great education they receive and the chance they get to showcase their talents for professional teams. He neglected to mention that, according to a Sports Illustrated magazine article, only 23 percent of his players graduated during a six-year period during the ’90s, and last year, according to other data, only 45 percent graduated.

Oy. According to several different reports, there were 17,500 college basketball players at all levels in 2011. Of those, 48 were drafted into the NBA. The players who were good enough to be drafted would’ve likely been discovered even without the “tremendous” opportunity Boeheim and other coaches afforded them. As for the wonderful educational opportunities, he also didn’t say anything about the athletes who are discouraged or dissuaded from majoring in disciplines that might cut into their practice time.

While watching the Duke-Syracuse game, I sent a text message to my pal Maurice “Mo” Howard, the point guard who guided that great Maryland team of the 1970s, and asked whether players received stipends when he played.

“Yeah. $15 a month.”

Fifteen dollars a month?

“Fifteen dollars a month. And we were glad to get it,” he wrote back.

Somewhat to his credit, Boeheim – rhymes with “pay time” – does favor throwing a few crumbs the athletes’ way in the form of a stipend. Probably $15.

Does Boeheim think 35,000 fans came to the Carrier Dome on Saturday to see him? Does he think that $11 billion contract CBS just signed with the NCAA was so the network could televise him stomping and grimacing on the sideline?

Probably, and especially if he listened to Duke – oops, Dick – Vitale screaming incessantly about what a great coach and humanitarian Boeheim is. (Coach K must have a word with Vitale, because Dickie’s usual unabashed Duke deification was diluted by his love of Boeheim.)

At one point during the game, Vitale ooohed reverently of “the five decades (Boeheim has) given to the school.”

What a crock. Dude hasn’t given them anything. They’re paying him $1.9 million a year. To coach college basketball.

Now that’s idiotic.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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