College Basketball: Boeheim's Court Wins Continue

By Brian P. Dunleavy
May 14, 2012

Very quietly, in the deep recesses of the sports pages, Jim Boeheim last week scored another court victory.

No, the men's basketball coach at Syracuse University did not move up on the all-time wins list for college coaches. Rather, an upstate New York judge dismissed a civil suit filed against Boeheim and his university on the grounds that the plaintiffs' case failed to meet the criteria for defamation. More on that in a minute.

Boeheim's mouth has run afoul of good taste before, but this is the first time he actually almost got punished for it. Emphasis on almost. In November, he chose to protect his long-time assistant coach Bernie Fine (who has since left Syracuse) after the latter was accused of being a pedophile by two former Orange ball boys. Boeheim leveraged his platform as a Division I basketball coach—and a very successful one at that—during a nationally televised postgame press conference (thanks ESPN) to question the motives of Fine’s accusers. He referenced the Penn State scandal and called the former ball boys liars, adding that their accusations against Fine were "about… [the] money." The former ball boys—now adults—sued Boeheim, and the school.

A few weeks later, the Hall of Fame coach apologized for his remarks, but only after more evidence supporting the ball boys’ stories came to light. During a taped phone conversation with one of the ball boys, Fine’s wife seemed to acknowledge the abuse. The ball boys also alleged that she and another coach’s wife had sexual relations with a number of Syracuse hoops players.

Boeheim, Syracuse's Big Man on Campus, much like the late Joe Paterno was at Penn State, claimed to be unaware of any of these alleged shenanigans, just as he has claimed ignorance of any attempt on the part of the basketball program to circumvent the school's policy on players testing positive for banned substances, according to a March report by Yahoo! Sports.

Of course, none of this passes the smell test. Big-time college coaches are notorious control freaks, and Boeheim has been at Syracuse—as big as it gets in college basketball—since the mid-1970s.

Unfortunately, thanks in part to statute of limitations laws in New York State (the known allegations against Fine center around events in early 1990s), we may never know what, if anything, Boeheim knew, or when he knew it with regard to the Fine case (the matter of the drug tests remains under investigation). If that’s how this all pans out, the Syracuse legend will become the latest in a long line of well-known college coaches to skirt scandal while their schools, not to mention the players (and other students), suffer. For other recent examples in college hoops see "Calipari, John" and "Howland, Ben" (although at least the latter may lose his job).

In making his ruling on the defamation suit, Supreme Court Justice Brian DeJoseph, reportedly an alum of Syracuse University and its law school, ruled that Boeheim's comments were not statements of fact but rather opinions that are protected from defamation suits under the First Amendment.

I have some opinions about whether Boeheim should still be involved in college athletics, but I hesitate to express them. With my luck, there'd be a Syracuse grad presiding over the resultant litigation.


About the author: Brian P. Dunleavy is a writer who lives in New York.



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