HOUSTON — No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 10 seed Syracuse will square off Saturday night in the second national semifinal game, but it might as well be the Hot Takes national championship.
With the NCAA investigating both teams in the last couple of years for serious infractions, it feels nearly every other question directed at coach Jim Boeheim, coach Roy Williams and NCAA President Mark Emmert at the first day of Final Four availability involves the investigations, punishments (or lack thereof) and benefits to cheating.
While the NCAA has yet to make a ruling on the UNC case that centered around long-running academic fraud, it handed down Syracuse’s punishment a year ago. Among other things, Orange head coach Jim Boeheim served a nine-game suspension, and his team was docked scholarships for academic misconduct, impermissible benefits and a university drug testing policy that occurred within the program for more than a decade.
We didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know in today’s press conferences, so rather than rehash all of that for the trillionth time on the interwebs, here’s a couple highlights from asked of Emmert, Williams and Boeheim about scandals and investigations of the two programs.
Q. You’re trying to become the sixth coach of all time to win his third national championship, yet you’ve had this NCAA investigation looming over the season. How have you been able to balance the up-and-down emotions of the season.
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, it really hasn’t affected the coaching part because it’s been my sort of salvation. I go over there and I don’t think about all that stuff.
We have talked about it so much, it’s been such a big story that I’m tired of it. We have, in my opinion, the greatest sporting event there is, the Final Four, going on. It’s about four schools, four teams, four coaching staffs who have worked their tails off to get here.
All that other stuff that sometimes I call ‘junk’ has been talked about too much. I really want to focus on my team, the other guys, their teams, what’s happening. It’s okay to be a college basketball player and it’s a great event to be in the Final Four.
The first part of the question about being the sixth guy. I really don’t think about those things. I’m trying to figure out how in the dickens I can get enough baskets against Syracuse’s zone. I’ve been fortunate to have great kids that make me look very good and I hope they keep doing it for a long time.
Q. The investigation obviously has gone on for a while, like it did with Syracuse, yet you guys are here. How much tangible impact has it had so far?
COACH WILLIAMS: Jimmy and I had to answer this same question together this morning. Hopefully we won’t have to answer it continually while we’re here.
I think it affected us because it was our school. Jimmy went to Syracuse. I went to North Carolina. We’ve always loved those places, perhaps more than any other coach. It had nothing to do with these players. These players were not involved. It affected us as a distraction, as the way people looked at us personally.
Again, our teams are here because they played their way here. They had nothing to do with all the stuff. I’m looking forward to talking about zone defenses and fast breaks, basketball players who have accomplished a great deal.
Q. Mark, the slogan at the Final Four is, ‘The road ends here.’ There are a lot of North Carolina fans, coach, administrators, those outside of their fan base who want to know what’s the end of the road, when’s the end of the road in their investigation?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Obviously a very complex circumstance. I’m not going to comment on the nature of the case itself. It’s been moving along very well. The university’s been very cooperative, will be at a place where my staff can issue allegations or notice of allegations in the very near future.
Other than that, it is premature to say when that will occur, but they’re certainly getting to the end of the road on it.
Q. The investigation at Syracuse has always been completed. You’ve handed out the sanctions. As you look back on it, that was an investigation that took several years and involved some very serious academic malfeasance, to say the least. Putting them in the field this year, do you have any reservations about that sending a message that says it’s okay to do that because after a brief absence from the tournament, you’ll be right back in?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Yeah, sure, I understand why optically people have a lot of questions around all that. It makes perfect sense that they might.
The reality is, is that the Committee on Infractions handed down, which is a group of individuals from the membership, as you know, handed down their sanctions on Syracuse University. The university dealt with those sanctions and this group of young men that are playing right now had nothing to do with any of those violations the.
From Joe’s point of view and the committee’s point of view, their job is not to determine who is eligible or not, that’s up to the members to make that determination. They saw Syracuse as having responded appropriately to the allegations that were against them and having dealt with the penalties that the membership imposed on them.
So we’ve got a team that’s playing right now that, again, had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions, and they should be allowed to play.
It shouldn’t impact these young men. That’s what the judgment of the membership was. I support it.
Q. Mark, I’m going to quote Jim Boeheim. He said, Cheating to me is intentionally doing something, like you wouldn’t want to get this recruit, you arranged a job for him, or you went to see him when you shouldn’t. You called him and you got an edge in recruiting. That’s cheating. I think if something happens that you’re not aware of that it doesn’t really affect the recruit, I don’t look at it in the same way. He basically was standing up for what he had done, what happened at Syracuse was not cheating. Do you agree with what he has said?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: Well, look, the Committee on Infractions looking at the facts in that case. It was a voluminous set of data. It took far too long for all the information to be collected and gathered. I think everybody agreed with that.
When the data were put in front of a Committee on Infractions — this is a body of members of the association that aren’t paid employees of the NCAA. They’re conference commissioners. They’re athletic directors. There’s a former Attorney General of the United States. A former university president. It’s a cross-section of the membership.
When those folks looked at the facts, they reached the conclusion that, indeed, violations of our rules and bylaws had occurred and imposed sanctions that were consistent with their view and that behavior.
I’ll let Coach Boeheim define that how he wants to. But the committee determined these are clear violations of the rules and that, therefore, it warranted some pretty significant sanctions, and they were imposed.
Q. You’re relying on what the committee did. Are you saying you agree lockstep with what their definition of cheating is? I’m trying to get your opinion on what Boeheim said.
PRESIDENT EMMERT: I have enormous confidence in the Committee on Infractions. I think that process works remarkably well. It’s the closest thing you’re going to see to ‘a jury of your peers’ model for as broad an association as this one that includes a wide collection of institutions and members.
I have complete confidence in what that body did in this case.
Q. A lot of people have talked about the presence of Syracuse and UNC here, noted that the risk of breaking rules seems well worth the reward. I wondered if you think the current penalty structure is at all an adequate deterrent and if it’s a concern of yours?
PRESIDENT EMMERT: It’s always a concern of ours that the rules that the members have put in place strike that right balance between being deterrence from behavior that nobody wants to see, to also being too punitive and impacting students, for example, that didn’t have anything to do with it.
I would disagree with those observations that people have. The fact of the matter is that Syracuse, as I have said several times now, went through an exhaustive process. It went through a hearing on infractions. It dealt with the sanctions that were put in place.
This current group of student-athletes had nothing to do with those sanctions, and they happen to be a very good basketball team.
I think to conclude from that that there was no impact on the university is simply wrong. I think they disagreed at that time, and I think they would disagree today that there were no penalties that were inflicted on them.
Then, of course, the UNC case, as I just said earlier, we haven’t even gotten to a place where there have been allegations delivered to the institution. So we can’t make any comment, observation about them one way or the other.
Keep your fire extinguisher handy, because the stories written in the next couple of days from these quotes will be keyboard melting.