It’s a weird feeling to watch a grown man shrieking and hollering and swearing in front of millions of people, especially when you realize it’s all about a game. And it’s an even weirder feeling to be surrounded by thousands of adults enjoying the old man’s tantrum.
Everywhere you went last weekend, loyal Syracuse University folks who, like me, bleed Orange from autumn ’til spring, were cheering on Coach Jim Boeheim for backing up his team by screaming at the official who called a charge on C.J. Fair during the final seconds of the Feb. 22 basketball game against Duke.
No honest person can say he or she didn’t enjoy the coach’s outburst at some level. But an honest person also has to acknowledge two other truths: 1) The meltdown and resulting technical fouls deprived a team known for heart stopping heroics from staging a comeback in the last 10 seconds. 2) This isn’t the first time that Boeheim’s temper has done damage, damage more serious than losing a basketball game.
Syracuse men’s basketball is in the midst of one of its greatest seasons ever. The team goes to Durham and takes on Duke in a rematch of our Feb. 1 buzzer-beater over the Blue Devils. That contest in the Carrier Dome is the greatest regular-season college basketball game of the century. Full stop.
This time out, our offense, especially the backcourt, was anemic. Yet with seconds left, we had a chance to tie—but for a referee calling C.J. Fair for the charge, the game would have been tied with 10 seconds left.
Outside the boundaries of Onondaga County, half the college basketball world thinks it was a good call, the other half thinks C.J. Fair was robbed of a bucket. Like you, I’m going with the “C.J. was robbed” version. Then Boeheim went berserk, the ref handed him a pair of technical fouls, and he left the Cameron Indoor Stadium with a police escort as Duke drained three foul shots and put the game out of reach.
Boeheim deflected attention from the impact of his actions at his post-game news conference. He said he had no regrets, and wouldn’t have any next week. In sports you get to do that. The journalist’s questions are softball, and there is little chance to follow up. No one got to ask the coach, for example, how he would have reacted if one of his student athletes had charged the ref and caused a pair of Ts to seal the defeat. C.J. Fair had every reason to let Tony Greene, the official, have a piece of his mind. Fair and his teammates kept their cool, knowing they had to set up to play for the win by trying to steal the inbound pass, or foul, and hope lightning would strike once again.
They didn’t get that chance. If you look at the tape of the head coach’s outburst, you will note his assistant, Mike Hopkins, quietly trying to talk him back over the edge while C.J. himself calmly readies himself to continue play.
But it’s somehow seen as endearing when an old guy loses him temper, especially in defense of his team. Except sometimes that temper has real-world consequences, outside the arena.
So many people said after the game that they had never seen this side of Boeheim before.
Yes, we have. Have we forgotten already? The last time the coach lost it on the national stage and started calling people names was when he was defending Bernie Fine. It is a scandal that has never been resolved, one for which SU has yet to provide answers to a number of questions.
On Nov. 17, 2011, when Boeheim was first asked about allegations that Fine had molested two ball boys years earlier, the Hall of Fame coach called the ball boys liars and accused them of making up charges for the sake of money. At the time, many people expressed sympathy for a man defending his friend. That sympathy was seriously misplaced. Boeheim’s anger, as he later acknowledged, had the devastating effect of intimidating survivors of sexual abuse. That is way worse than losing your No. 1 ranking, and there is no post-season tournament in which to win redemption.
After the Duke game, Boeheim said that he had no regrets, and he wouldn’t have any next week either. But in 2011, the very next week he expressed regret for his failure to control his impulses. When the evidence against Fine began to mount, and SU dismissed his longtime friend, Boeheim was forced to walk back from his statements and apologize.
“I shouldn’t have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that, and I regret any harm I caused,” he told staff at Vera House, which works to fight domestic and sexual violence, during a visit. “I am trying to learn from my mistake.”
When SU, which has never explained why it didn’t suspend Fine when charges against him first came to light, finally fired Fine, Boeheim endorsed the move.
“I believe the university took the appropriate step. What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated and that anyone with information be supported. I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse,” Boeheim said.
But the damage had already been done. Watching a guy pitch a fit, even when he’s doing it to back up someone else, really isn’t all that endearing after all.