Last night, Syracuse University men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim walked onto his home court at the Carrier Dome and received a rousing standing ovation. This wasn’t because he was starting his thirty-fifth season as the team’s head coach, or to commemorate the Hall of Famer’s forty-ninth year in association with the school as student, athlete and coach. It was a community-wide show of support for their embattled leader now facing pressure to resign after his longtime assistant and friend Bernie Fine was accused of being a pedophile.
If that sounds like a horrible echo of the happenings at Penn State University, the similarities don’t end there—and not only because Fine is accused of using his position as coach to find his alleged victims. (Two of his three accusers are former Syracuse ball boys.) It runs deeper: another example in our culture of athletic complicity.
Like the football at Penn State, the basketball program at Syracuse is the cultural, social, and even economic hub of the region. The Syracuse hoops program brings in $19 million in revenue per year, fifth most among basketball programs in the United States and more than storied programs like Kentucky and Indiana.
Like Penn State’s Joe Paterno, Boeheim is more than a coach: he’s an institution. The Syracuse hoops program resembles a kingdom overseen by a benevolent dictator, who, as one source said to me, “tends to see what he wants to see.”
Like Penn State, there is a history of student/athletes having a wide array of misdeeds defended by Boeheim, often in a manner that seems to expect the campus equivalent of diplomatic immunity.
(Unlike Penn State, Jim Boeheim originally, and to his great shame, went after Fine’s accusers calling them “liars”—something for which he has since apologized.)
Like Penn State, allegiance to the program runs deeply in the marrow of the community and well beyond the boundaries of the school. The police chief who heard the original abuse claim against Fine in 2002 is named Dennis DuVal. DuVal played for the Syracuse Orange hoops team from 1972–74, leaving one year before Boeheim took over the top job. DuVal and his underlings kept no written record of the accusations against Fine, telling former ballboy Bobby Davis that “the statute of limitations” had expired, making an investigation impossible. The police department announced this week that they were now changing policy and keeping files of every child abuse accusation going forward.
Like Penn State, Syracuse knew about the allegations for years and conducted their own internal investigation independent of the authorities. In 2005, the school investigated, allegedly—and frankly unbelievably—without telling Boeheim. They buried their findings until turning them over this week.