Immediately after I read my acceptance letter to Syracuse University in the spring of 2007, I e-mailed its basketball program.
I told them about my experience playing and working in basketball, from coaching at The Village School (currently ranked as a top three private school basketball program in the Houston, Texas area) to earning season tickets from head coach Jeff Van Gundy as a Houston Rockets Red Rowdy to helping the Rockets front office prepare for the NBA Draft.
I contacted assistant coaches at other schools where I was accepted and never heard back from them.
I thought the same would happen at Syracuse.
But I was wrong.
Assistant coach Bernie Fine responded promptly:
When you get to Syracuse stop by the basketball office and we can talk. My phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. Please tell Coach Van Gundy that I said hello when you see him.
The College Experience
I set foot on the Syracuse campus eager to transform from boy to man. I embarked on my college journey with three clear goals in mind: 1) gain valuable experience as a sports broadcaster, 2) learn the fundamentals of business, and 3) serve as manager to the Syracuse Orange basketball team.
My end game was to become a graduate assistant and then find my way to a head coaching or management gig collegiately or professionally. The backup was to broadcast for ESPN – an employer known to recruit SU graduates like Mike Tirico, Sean McDonough, Jayson Stark, David Amber, and Steve Bunin.
After I settled down in my new surroundings, the first person I called was Coach Fine. He was incredibly caring and told me to get in touch with the lead student manager, who assigned me a role and responsibilities. Nevertheless, a few days before I was to begin my first task as a manager for Syracuse Orange basketball, I threw in the towel before I ever picked one up – wisely deciding to focus on my heavy academic load… so I could graduate on time.
That was the end of my tenure with SU basketball.
Building Relationships: Fine’s Student Manager
By my junior year, I had earned a column with the school newspaper, The Daily Orange. My position with the paper allowed me access to underclassmen who wanted to get to where I was. I was also put in a position of power, at least in the eyes of staff who wanted me to “give back” to younger students.
For three years, I worked fervently as a peer advisor/mentor to incoming freshmen at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, helping them adapt to their classes and the college life.
Zach Settembre was one of my advisees. In August of ’09, Settembre came in to our first meeting with a five-year plan in hand. Like me, he wanted to take a heavy course load and be manager of the SU basketball team.
I discouraged him, saying I tried to go that route and didn’t even make it to the first practice. Fortunately for Settembre, he didn’t take my advice.
Settembre was manager for two seasons, frequently helping assistant coach Bernie Fine. Settembre’s experience as manager helped him land a position as Director of Player Personnel at the Upstate New York AAU Basketball Club. He will graduate a year early this May.
“Coach Fine has always given me first class treatment,” Settembre said. “He’s really helped me a lot as a young and aspiring coach.”
Building Relationships II: Chancellor Nancy Cantor
Every semester, Chancellor Nancy Cantor held private lunches with students so she could answer questions and hear comments about the school. It was during a September ’09 lunch where I voiced my concerns regarding the University’s diversity in faculty and paramount racial segregation among students.
Cantor played an instrumental role in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases, so racial and gender equality was very high up on her initiatives. It bothered her that Princeton Review ranked Syracuse as one of the most segregated campuses in the country, and I could tell that she tried hard to stop that.
My criticisms prompted Cantor to invite me as her special guest to a town hall meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. After the once-in-a-lifetime experience, I started following Cantor’s moves.
Why the Chancellor could be on the Hot Seat
Earlier this year, Syracuse University slipped seven spots to number 62 in the annual U.S. News and World Report. In response to the drop, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a report criticizing Cantor for focusing too much on improving the city of Syracuse and not enough on refining Syracuse University.
The piece garnered national attention, and SU alumni and professors even called for her dismissal. Current students have complained about the fall in rankings, saying their degree will be devalued.
Now with the Fine scandal, Cantor is under the microscope. A hiccup would give her detractors a clear opportunity to call for her exit.
Whether Cantor is right or wrong in having SU benefit “the public good,” I respect and admire how she has taken an unpopular position and stood by it. Despite the calls for her to be ousted, she continues to show toughness and fight for what she believes.
This quality clearly stands out in her handling of the Fine situation. I have no doubt that she won’t be a source of cover-ups and will comply with authorities. Furthermore, she will take proper action against anyone who does not represent the ideals Syracuse University espouses.
When the University investigated Fine in 2005, Cantor and athletic director Daryl Gross had only been in their jobs for a few months. Positions as complex as theirs require at least a year of acclimation. If there was any potential cover-up, it would start with head basketball coach Jim Boeheim.
The Future of Jim Boeheim
Like former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, the end of the 67-year-old Boeheim could be sooner than expected. Boeheim has already named assistant coach Mike Hopkins as his successor. Earlier this year, Boeheim even spoke of possible retirement.
“I’m getting close, I really feel that way,” Boeheim told ESPNNewYork.com in March. “This league has gotten awfully tough. It’s a real grind out there.”
If Boeheim thought the Big East was tough, then he’d probably think joining the ACC is even more arduous. Syracuse, along with Pittsburgh, is set to join the conference in the future, competing with powerhouses like Duke and North Carolina. Boeheim was not a fan of the switch.
The night the Bernie Fine story broke, I thought Boeheim should have been suspended a game after his ignorant and insensitive remarks toward sexually abused victims.
“He [Bobby Davis] supplied four names to the university that would corroborate his story,” Boeheim told the New York Times. “None of them did … there is only one side to this story. He is lying. Why wouldn’t he come to the police? Why would he go to ESPN? What are people looking for here? I believe they are looking for money. I believe they saw what happened at Penn State and they are using ESPN to get money. That is what I believe. You want to put that on the air? Put that on the air.”
Boeheim’s comments were hurtful and intimidating to voiceless victims of sexual abuse, said Bob Hoatson, the founder of “Road to Recovery,” an advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse that has been calling for Boeheim’s dismissal.
Boeheim also spoke without knowing logical details. Davis’ statute of limitations expired nearly two decades ago. If he were looking for money, than he would have come out before it did.
Davis, like his stepbrother Mike Lang, has made it clear he went public to protect other victims. For a school that produces some of the top public relations professionals in the world, I was surprised that school administrators let Boeheim communicate so freely.
After Syracuse fired Fine, Boeheim took back his initial remarks.
“I believe I misspoke very badly in my response to the allegations that have been made,” an emotional Boeheim said in a press conference after playing Florida last week. “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 that I caused.”
Rather than rile up public support to get Boeheim fired, Hoatson should instead work with Boeheim to educate the public about sexual abuse and its implications. Boeheim’s apology was the first step in making amends. Now, he can redeem himself by learning more about child molestation and sharing the harsh truth with the public.
“I’m going to do everything I can to do that,” Boeheim said. “I’ve always been committed to kids. There’s no question in my mind the issue of abuse is the number one thing we should all be concerned about in this community.”
Boeheim’s Lack of Character Development
Duke University basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski recently became the all-time winning coach in NCAA history. Despite his accolades, which include four NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal, Coach K takes pride in the impact he has made in people’s lives. Not just his players, but also the common person.
Enter Duke’s Basketball Museum & Sports Hall of Fame, and you’ll see, in very large lettering, one of Coach K’s most famous quotes:
“I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.”
“[Jim Boeheim] is probably my best friend in coaching, and I support his comments the last couple of days,” Coack K recently said.
Unlike Krzyewski, however, Boeheim doesn’t bother to delve into the lives of his colleagues and players. He vehemently disagreed with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s proposal to eliminate teams with less than a 50 percent graduation rate from the NCAA tournament.
Maybe Boeheim’s management style has restricted the maturation of current and former players. Going all the way back to 1990, Syracuse basketball players had been receiving cash from Boeheim’s best friend, Bill Rapp Jr., a local car dealer.
In early 2008, a cousin of Scoop Jardine (a current fifth year senior) stole another student’s school ID and bought more than $100 worth of food on it. Jardine knew of his cousin’s behavior but didn’t prevent him from buying food.
In late 2008, guard Eric Devendorf was suspended for an entire academic term after he punched a female student (the suspension was appealed and Devendorf ended up missing only a few games).
Police arrested current sophomore Fab Melo earlier this year because his ex-girlfriend said he physically beat her.
And now, there are Bernie Fine’s child abuse allegations.
Does Boeheim have a strong track record of building character? Not really. But that’s not at the top of his to-do list. “I think that you have to understand as a basketball coach, I don’t get involved in that stuff,” Boeheim recently told ESPN’s Andy Katz. “That’s not something I should be involved in.”
Boeheim likely had no clue about Fine’s escapades, and that’s a problem, considering Boeheim was aware of allegations in 2005. If you were the CEO of a company, and your CFO was accused of violating the law two different times, wouldn’t you be suspicious? I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable working with such an individual.
Why didn’t Boeheim conduct his own investigation or have a heart-to-heart conversation with Fine? Office politics are everywhere. Don’t tell me they’re not within the Syracuse University athletic department. If it does come out that Bernie Fine did molest young boys, then Boeheim should be fired for gross negligence. Not knowing (or not wanting to know) can be just as bad as knowing and not reporting to police.
Boeheim’s age, mixed with the latest allegations, give him reason to call it quits after the season, and I think he will do that. Still, the question has to be asked: As Penn State did to Paterno, will Syracuse University fire Boeheim before he makes that decision?
Despite Chancellor Cantor’s recent vote of confidence, SU should get rid of Boeheim if 1) evidence shows he ignored Fine’s relationship with minors, or 2) authorities file charges against Fine. Right now, there’s only speculation. That could change in a month though.
A Closer Look into Child Molestation
The other day, I heard a classmate say, “All these old guys molesting kids. What is this world coming to?”
The world actually isn’t coming to anything. Months before the Penn State and Syracuse scandals hit the media airwaves, I wrote a story about child abuse victims coming to terms with their haunted pasts in college.
Through time and maturity, I have found that sexual abuse is a silent yet rampant problem. Statistics show that 20 million American males were abused as children. The numbers are even more startling for females.
Some people think the latest scandals are so terrible that they refuse to watch coverage or discuss the topics with their children.
“What’s happening is rare and doesn’t represent the real world,” one adult told me. She is shielding her high school kids from exposure to the Syracuse and Penn State cases.
Rather than cringe at the latest scandals, we should look at the positives. Now is a perfect time to understand abuse and to take cautious approaches in protecting our children. In response to the pervasive publicity about child molestation, states are working to implement mandatory reporting laws.
A snippet from Dr. Walter Afield, founder and President of the Neuropsychiatric Institute and former head of John Hopkins’ child psychiatry department:
“It’s in every religious and social order. It’s in every place you can think of: boys and girls in schools, homes, prisons, places of worship. It’s happening today, and it happened in the prehistoric times. Some cultures feel this is a normal way of growing and relating. Areas such as Uganda, Rwanda and the Middle East – some guys are busy raping people to show their control and power.”
Personal injury attorney Joseph Klest has stood up for more than 500 victims of sexual abuse over his 29-year career. In May, he represented the plaintiff in Snyder v. Kenny, in which the $28 million case settlement represents the largest single-victim, civil sexual abuse verdict in history.
“There are very few false allegations of abuse because it’s a very embarrassing issue for the victim,” Klest said. “Victims will be surprised at how society will rally behind them. It’s never too late to share the truth.”
Boeheim’s initial comments on the first two accusers showed his lack of knowledge on the subject.
I contacted several individuals who know Bernie Fine to comment for this story. Most people didn’t return e-mails or phone calls. Van Gundy called the situation “a real tragedy” and declined to elaborate further.
Given my work with sexual abuse, I have a hard time believing all three of the alleged victims in the Bernie Fine case are lying. . Because of statutory limitations, I don’t know if Fine will be charged, but I think evidence will show his illegal activity with kids.
And Central New York’s most exalted basketball coach for the past 35 years will disappear into retirement.
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