What if the NCAA penalties are not reduced by Syracuse basketball’s appeal?

Mike Hopkins figures to be SU's next coach
Mike Hopkins will get a month-long audition to be his boss’s successor

Now that Jim Boeheim’s State of the Program Address is almost three weeks in the rearview mirror and everyone’s emotional status has been lowered to “Ugh, Duke won the national title,” it is time for a clinical look at the big question hanging over the Syracuse basketball program:

What if the NCAA penalties are not reduced by SU’s appeal?

To start, an unpleasant recap of the sentencing is necessary. The Syracuse basketball program was hit with five years of probation (as was the football program), the vacation of an reported 108 wins, the suspension of head coach Jim Boeheim for nine ACC games in the 2015-2016 season, recruiting restrictions resulting in a drop of off-campus recruiters from four to two for a two-year span, and the loss of a dozen scholarships over four years at three per year.

The first two of those penalties are, frankly, ones of minimal impact.

With an overhaul of the academic services in regard to the basketball program long since completed and the penalty lowered by the NCAA, worrying about further violations during the probation period is wasteful. With extra eyes on the program during probation, the likelihood of further infractions is just about nil.

And with Boeheim saying he does not care about the number of wins on his ledger, it is doubtful anyone should care about them.

Boeheim’s suspension, however, is one area of major interest.

As it stands now, Boeheim will have to step away from the program for the entirety of the first nine games. From 12:01am on the day of the team’s first ACC game until 11:59pm of the team’s ninth ACC game, Boeheim may not participate in any team activities.

If that punishment had been laid down in the 2014-2015 season, the team would have been without a head coach from January 3 until February 4, so they are looking at Boeheim not being involved in any capacity for a month. If nothing else, lead assistant Mike Hopkins will get a month-long audition to be his boss’s successor.

» Related: On Chris McCullough’s decision to leave Syracuse

That said, it would be stunning if everything for that month was not planned out prior to the beginning of the season and any necessary adjustments not made during the run-up to Boeheim’s sabbatical. Anything that happens during Boeheim’s absence will simply have to be dealt with at that time, but with as long as Hopkins has been on the coaching staff, he should already know what the head man would do and will likely do the same.

The recruiting restrictions mean that Boeheim and one of the two junior assistants, Adrian Autry and Gerry McNamara, cannot travel for recruiting purposes. (Part of SU’s self-imposed punishment was a loss of one coach for off-campus recruiting for six months, which would have undoubtedly meant Boeheim staying off the road for that time.) The real loss is no more photos of Boeheim napping at summer AAU games.

To be serious, Mike Hopkins, who has been the lead recruiter for the Orange for several years, is one of the best recruiters in the country and will undoubtedly stay on the trail. He and Boeheim have both been involved with uncommitted 2016 recruit Tyus Battle, so that is simply another reason for Hopkins to be racking up frequent flyer miles and hotel points. The other slot could be a toss-up between Autry and McNamara based on what other recruits the staff targets, their hometowns, existing relationships, and so on.

The restriction is not a plus, obviously, but there should not be an appreciable dip in the quality of the program’s recruiting.

The loss of three scholarships per year over four years sounds brutal, and to be sure, it is not good. SU will just have to adjust their focus in recruiting, which will result in multiple changes.

There will be a significantly reduced interest in “project” players. Even though Boeheim tends to play only seven or eight players, scholarship players number nine and ten have to be close to earning playing time. Whether it’s foul trouble that puts someone into an emergency role for a few minutes or injuries that catapult someone into the rotation, the guys at the end of the bench need to be capable from the day they land on campus.

Similarly, non-injury redshirting is almost certainly out. With as short a roster as the Orange will already have, it will be very hard to give one of those ten spots to someone who needs to sit out for anything other than injury.

The loss of scholarships also creates an issue in the event of injury or unplanned departure. As mentioned above, injury is its own issue. A season-ending injury alone is already bad. The loss of scholarships making the bench shorter is just a little figurative salt in the literal wound.

An unplanned departure, however, is not as bad as it seems. An in-season transfer rarely happens and, should something arise, the coaching staff will undoubtedly massage the situation and try to keep the player on board unless it is a completely toxic situation.

In the event of a post-season transfer or surprise declaration for the NBA draft (think Tyler Ennis, who was expected to be on campus for two seasons prior to playing his way into a first-round draft pick by February of his lone season), one simple rule allows the Orange some daylight.

The NCAA allows players who have redshirted for one season and completed their degree requirements in four years to transfer to another school to obtain a graduate degree without having to sit out an additional season. There are a couple more qualifications, but this is
the gist.

In short, if something should happen with a player jumping to the NBA ahead of time, SU could add a guy for one season, essentially taking over the scholarship of the player who moves on “ahead of schedule”.

And that is a big shopping list.

Jeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello recently posted a “complete transfer list” at ESPN.com. There are over 250 players who opted to transfer following the 2014-2015 season and over 50 of them are players who will have their undergraduate degrees in hand.

(While the Orange are not looking to add someone for the 2015-2016 season, just read the following as if they are, preferably as if you’re an agent looking to find these players work.)

Drexel shooting guard Damien Lee averaged 21.4 points per game last season and has career stats of 16.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game with 196 three-pointers. At 6’6”, the Baltimore resident has good size for the top of the 2-3 zone.

How about some insurance for DaJuan Coleman at center? Mike Thorne Jr. averaged 9.7 points, 7.1 boards, and almost a block per game at Charlotte over the last two years.

What about a point guard? Anthony Collins, who played four seasons at South Florida (one ended by injury), but averaged 8.2 points, 5.7 assists, and 1.6 steals per game in his career, is looking for a new home. (As an added bonus, Collins has played at the Carrier Dome, filing a 12-point, ten-assist double-double as a freshman for the Bulls.)

If you need a combo guard, maybe Dylan Ennis, who scored nearly ten points per game and shot over 36 percent from three for Villanova this season, is interested. Or how about Trey Lewis, who made 96 threes at a 42.3 percent success rate en route to scoring 16.3 points per game for Cleveland State last season?

Between the above and some of the other players eligible to play next season as transfers (Quintin Brewer of Bethune-Cookman, Derrick Gordon of UMass, Tyler Harris of Providence, Lonnie Jackson of Boston College, Rafael Maia of Brown, Shonn Miller of Cornell), you could build a top 20 team made of players with one year of eligibility left. Thus, Syracuse should easily plug a surprise hole or any size or shape with a one-year player.

Recruiting someone to come in for one season should be, on paper, anyway, a pretty simple proposition. The chance to play at SU for one season while working toward an advanced degree is a very good one, especially for someone like Lee, who undoubtedly has professional basketball aspirations. The exposure and experience of playing for a top-tier program like the Orange would be hard for some to turn down.

So, while a couple of the punishments are bad, in particular the scholarship loss, they are not be as bad as they seem at first glance or at least a workaround exists to manage the penalties.

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About Jim Stechschulte 894 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. He currently resides in Syracuse.