SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has always hinted he planned to retire on his own terms. That moment is at hand and his plan remains intact despite NCAA sanctions marring the end of his career.
In an hour-long press conference on Thursday ahead of top teams starting in the NCAA Tournament, Boeheim said that 2018 is the “right time” to retire, but acknowledged that next season could be his last as he and the university appeal punishments for academic and benefits violations.
Boeheim said his plan discussed with the university’s chancellor is to retire after three more seasons, but that he will take things year by year.
“I love coaching, and you can coach as long as you can be effective. I thought I was effective this year. I don’t think I was as good as I would have liked to have been, but I think I was effective,” said Boeheim, head coach at his alma mater since 1976. “If I’m not effective at the end of next year, I won’t coach after next year. The three-year thing is the outside.”
Boeheim said retiring after his team reached the Final Four in 2012 would have been ideal, but the timing wasn’t right. He said he has told recruits he will be here next season but has no firm plans beyond that.
Boeheim said some of the NCAA’s allegations laid out in a scathing 94-page report earlier this month are inaccurate. He called the penalties “unduly harsh” and said the reason he planned to stay on as coach was to make sure the program was in good shape.
“There was no way I would ever run away from an investigation in progress,” Boeheim said. “I had no plans to coach this long. This investigation has made it imperative.”
The NCAA punished Boeheim and Syracuse for academic, benefits and other violations that officials said showed the university had lost control of the athletic department.
“Although the infractions report does not find that I had personal involvement in any violations of NCAA rules, the Committee on Infractions has asserted that for the past 10 years I did not promote an atmosphere of compliance within the men’s basketball program, and I did not monitor the activities regarding compliance of those within the program. This could not be further from the truth,” Boeheim said, reading from a prepared statement. “This is far from a program where student-athletes freely committed academic fraud.”
“I’ll take the punishment,” Boeheim said.
Boeheim has had problems before. The NCAA banned the Orange from the 1993 NCAA Tournament for recruiting violations and at the start of the 2011-12 season former associate head coach Bernie Fine was fired after two former ballboys accused him of molestation two decades earlier. Fine was never charged.
Despite the NCAA’s findings, Boeheim’s lengthy exit plan and support from Syracuse officials throughout the investigation demonstrate how powerful he has become as the face of the university through his Hall of Fame career.
Boeheim built his reputation over more than five decades as a player and coach, revered for wins and delivering a national title to a struggling city in 2003.
“Given all these developments, it’s right for the program (for me to stay),” Boeheim said. “I’ve told every recruit I’m going to coach next year. If anybody’s concerned about recruiting, I don’t think that’s an issue.”
Boeheim is suspended for the first half of the next Atlantic Coast Conference season, a total of nine games. Syracuse will also have three scholarships taken away for four seasons and all wins vacated in which an ineligible player participated during five seasons between 2004 and 2012. The total wins removed from records could be as high as 108 of his 966 victories, depending on what happens in the appeal process. Syracuse has already vacated 24 wins.
The school’s athletic director is also stepping aside, immediately taking another marketing position with the school.
Longtime assistant coach Mike Hopkins, a former Orange star player, is in line to succeed Boeheim, but the final decision will be made by the chancellor.
“I believe Mike Hopkins will be a great coach and I fervently hope that he is the coach here,” Boeheim said.
In its report, the NCAA also placed Syracuse on probation for five years, saying athletic department officials interfered with academics to make sure star players stayed eligible.
Support staff routinely accessed and sent emails from student-athletes’ accounts and corresponded directly with professors and included attached course work to maintain required grades for the student-athletes to remain eligible, the report said.
One of the focal points of the report was former center Fab Melo, a Brazilian who spoke English haltingly. In 2012, Melo was declared ineligible for the NCAA tournament days before it started. NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said the university declared Melo ineligible.
Melo, who also missed three Big East games during the season because of an academic issue, had petitioned a professor for a grade change to remain eligible, a right that every Syracuse student has.
Boeheim said Melo’s eligibility was mischaracterized because people didn’t think he could write the petition.
“Syracuse has never admitted somebody here in the basketball program since I’ve been here that could not do the work, that was not qualified,” Boeheim said. “I think there’s a little racism involved when they start talking about not taking this guy or that guy, he’s from a foreign country. We shouldn’t have foreign students at Syracuse University?”
The NCAA report also said basketball staff encouraged students to develop relationships with a booster, which led to more than $8,000 in improper payments to five athletes for volunteering at a local YMCA. The booster also paid basketball staff for appearances or assistance at YMCA events, payments that weren’t reported properly.
Punishment also includes financial penalties and recruiting restrictions for two years.
Kekis reported from Albany, New York. Freelance writer Mark Frank contributed from Syracuse.
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