Q&A with Syracuse alum and Newsday senior sports writer Bob Herzog

Bob Herzog is a senior sports writer at Newsday, a professor of journalism at Stony Brook, and, more importantly, a distinguished Syracuse alumni. We recently sat down with Bob for his insight into Syracuse athletics.

The Juice Online: Tell us more about what you’re doing with Newsday and Stony Brook these days.

Zog: I am the senior high school sports writer for Newsday,which has become a more important position in recent years as the paper emphasizes “hyper-local” news and sports to compete with the Patch.com web site and also because that’s a good way to make newspapers relevant as its market share declines.

We can promote and market our local news and sports in print and on-line because there are no web sites offering such depth and quality. It’s also a business decision for Newsday to ramp up its local sports because our owners, Cablevision, started a tri-state area channel, MSG Varsity, which is a 24-7 high school sports channel, complete with its version of an ESPN-style sports desk and the broadcasting of many games. Newsday and MSG Varsity are partners, enhancing the high school sports coverage for our market.

At Stony Brook, I’m in my second year of teaching an upper-level course called Sports Reporting, which I’ve found to be tremendously inspiring. The kids keep me young at heart and up to date on all the trends in sports journalism – like Twitter, blogs and web sites like Deadspin and Grantland. I’m enjoying it very much. You’re never too old for new challenges in life!

TJO: Were you surprised that Nerlens Noel went to Kentucky?

Zog: Not after Kentucky won the national title and not with its recent success with a one-and-done philosophy espoused by coach John Calipari. I was hopeful (as a Syracuse alum and hoops fan) that Noel’s friendship with current SU freshman Michael Carter-Williams might’ve brought him to the Orange. But even for a Hall of Fame icon like Jim Boeheim, it’s tough to recruit against Calipari.

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TJO: How do you think the basketball team will do next year?

Zog: Not as well as if Fab Melo and Dion Waiters had stayed! If both returned (though I especially wasn’t surprised Melo left. He clearly was not a good student.), I think Syracuse would have been preseason No. 1. But they’ll still have C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche, Rakeem Christmas, James Southerland and Carter-Williams (I have very high hopes for him to be a 20-plus scorer), plus at least one big-time big-man recruit, Dajuan Coleman.

TJO: What is going on with the lacrosse team?

Zog: Bad year, for sure! Only way they’ll get invited to the NCAA Tournament this year is if they somehow win the inaugural Big East postseason tournament that will generate an automatic bid. Pretty clear they missed all-time NCAA goalie leader John Galloway. Not nearly the firepower on offense as it past years, and they haven’t tapped into the upstate Native American talent pool since Cody Jamieson left.

TJO: Do you think the football team has a chance of becoming bowl eligible?

Zog: Absolutely! Coach Doug Marrone has done an outstanding job turning the football program in the right direction. They still can’t afford any lag in recruiting as they haven’t built up enough of a talent base on the roster yet, but they only needed a couple more wins in 2011 to be eligible for a bowl and that’s doable in 2012. Of course there is uncertainty about whether they’ll be in the Big East or ACC next year and that might affect things. But, eventually, being affiliated with the ACC will help recruiting in all sports even if it means a tougher schedule. I understand why they did it, but as a hoops fan, I will forever miss those Big East matchups. It was, top to bottom, the best basketball conference in the country with passionate fans and rivalry games every night. And the Garden will miss the ‘Cuse in March. The Gerry McNamara Big East Tournament – with four comeback wins in four nights – and the epic six-overtime victory over Connecticut were among the greatest moments in Madison Square Garden college basketball history.

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TJO: What you think of the way the media, specifically ESPN, is handling the Bernie Fine coverage? Do you have any strong opinions about how the third accuser has recently recanted?

Zog: Considering that the Fine case came right on the heels of the more celebrated Jerry Sandusky/Penn State saga, I think the coverage has been okay. I haven’t read all the stories, since it’s not a huge newsmaker in New York at the moment, but I don’t feel that it’s been too over-the-top. Boeheim’s initial fiery denial and recant later probably got more attention. You could tell the whole thing weighed on Boeheim, even as they produced the best overall record for one season in school history. It didn’t look like Boeheim was enjoying the journey. I believe Boeheim’s story that he was totally blind-sided and knew nothing, but Fine was a close friend and no coach is more loyal to his university than Boeheim (who is an alum, as you know) so I think it wore him down. Frankly, if they had won the national championship this year, I wouldn’t have been shocked if Boeheim retired. But now, knowing him as well as I do and knowing that he’s such a competitor and is so passionate about coaching, I think he’ll stick around until at least they play that first season in the ACC.

But back to the Fine case: Much of the case against him has lost steam because witnesses have recanted. But it’s still pretty sleazy and where there’s that much smoke, there’s probably a little fire. That’s not scientific evidence, and I haven’t been reporting the case, but those are my suspicions.

I’ll say this: Between the Fine accusations; the way Boeheim came off initially in defending a friend and then having to apologize; the Melo academic issue (he clearly wasn’t going to class and that’s probably why the school was forced to make him ineligible); and the report of possible unreported drug use among players (during an era that covers even the 2003 national championship team), it was not a good off-the-court year for Syracuse. And that doesn’t even get into Waiters leaving (a 6th man turning pro after his sophomore year!), the football team slipping and the lacrosse team having one of its worse years in recent memory.

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