Though Syracuse cruised to a dominant 92-47 win over Colgate on Saturday afternoon in the Carrier Dome, the game itself was mostly an afterthought.
National media, including reporters from CNN and ESPN, turned out in force for what would have been a routine early-season tune-up against small-college cannon fodder, if not for the events of the past two days.
After the game, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim took the podium amid the frenetic clicking of camera shutters, addressing the media in his first open press conference since news broke Thursday that longtime SU assistant coach Bernie Fine was under investigation for allegedly molesting two former Syracuse ball boys.
On the surface it was, in many ways, a typical Boeheim presser. Candid and often sarcastic, he made no effort to hide his exasperation with several questions.
Still, one had only to look out at the packed media room to realize this was not a normal press conference.
In spite of his insistence that he would talk only about basketball, Boeheim spoke extensively about the allegations leveled at Fine, refusing to back off of his vocal support for his longtime assistant coach and friend.
“I’ve taken the right stance, said the right things. Now, we’ll let this play out. Whatever the results are, the results are,” he said. “I’ve said everything I needed to say, and probably more than most people would like me to say.”
He reiterated comments that he made to the Syracuse Post-Standard, when he said that he is “not Joe Paterno,” in reference to the legendary Penn State coach. Many have drawn comparisons between the developing scandal at Syracuse and the events at Penn State that ultimately led to Paterno’s firing. Paterno infamously failed to contact police when, in 2002, a graduate assistant reported to him that he had witnessed assistant coach Jerry Sandusky raping a young boy in a locker room shower.
Boeheim remained adamant that he had never had any cause to suspect Fine of abuse.
“If I had heard something, or something had happened, or something happens today—then I am going to do something,” he said. But, he continued, “I’ve been friends for 50 years with coach Fine, and that buys a lot of loyalty from me.”
He acknowledged the emotional difficulty the players now face, and the coaching staff’s role in helping them cope with the allegations, which have shocked the university community and the city of Syracuse. For the players, the allegations are added pressure on top of the day-to-day stresses of being a Division I athlete and playing on the fifth-ranked team in the country.
“They’re going to go through a lot of things in their time at Syracuse. That’s part of college. Not always the good part of it, but there are ups and downs. As a coach you know that, and you have to get them through these times.”
Boeheim also insisted, at the suggestion that other schools might try and draw recruits away using the allegations, that Syracuse’s reputation would not be affected among potential players.
“I hope they do [negative recruit], because we’ll kill them. I hope they do. Negative recruiting only helps us. I love it when people say it snows too much here. I love that. I say, if that’s the only thing you’re worried about, we don’t want you here.”
Indeed, though he seemed worn down by the previous 48 hours, Boeheim expressed his confidence that, whatever the result of the allegations, the university and the basketball program will weather the storm.
“Our program will be fine. Our program has been pretty good for 36 years. We’ll get through whatever will happen to our program.”