I'm sure you've all seen Greg Couch's article on FoxSports.com by now. On Sunday afternoon, in the wake of Syracuse's loss to Ohio State in the Elite 8, Couch wrote a piece about how Ohio State did the NCAA a "huge favor" by knocking Syracuse out, as the problems surrounding our program would've been bad publicity during the final four. He finesses the point by elucidating all of the great qualities of the Ohio State basketball program while ignoring virtually all the great things about Syracuse's squad. I won't provide a link here, as I don't think the piece warrants more page views. You can find it easily enough if you so desire.
Is his premise wrong? No. I'm sure the NCAA is thrilled that they won't have Verne Lundquist bringing up Bernie Fine eight times per game during their biggest basketball event of the year. However, that doesn't make the article less offensive or one sided.
Syracuse fans haven't run from the issues that have fallen on the program this year. There's a reason why we've called this "the best (or at least top five now that we're out) and worst season in Syracuse basketball history." Quite frankly, having new issues brought to light about the program you live and die with every few months absolutely sucks. No one denies this. However, by only focusing on the negative, there is a massive disservice done to some incredible people who have passed through this program.
Ohio State has some great stories, many of which Couch outlines, including Aaron Craft's brother's deployment to Afghanistan on Saturday night. However, any columnist who isn't skewing a story to fit his myopic thesis could have also mentioned a Syracuse player like Scoop Jardine, who is the model for what the NCAA says it tries to accomplish.
The NCAA's mission statement reads as follows:
Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.
Scoop came to Syracuse as a freshman with plenty of baggage, went through a number of issues on and off the court, fought through more scrutiny than just about any player in recent memory, and ended up graduating in four years and is now working on an advanced degree. He sacrificed his own leading role on the team for the greater good. He helped reel in his vitriolic friend Dion Waiters, who is now on his way to a first round selection in this year's NBA draft. But no, Couch insists that the NCAA can't have a person like that in their final four, because of allegations leveled against a former assistant coach about that things that happened in his private life thirty years ago, or because of self-reported drug issues with players from last decade.
It's not as if the four programs representing the NCAA in New Orleans this year are the epitome of class and virtue. Louisville's legendary coach is fresh off of a nasty public sex scandal. Kansas went through a large-scale ticket scandal in 2010, and had six players arrested in 2011, including this year's Naismith award candidate Thomas Robinson, on battery charges. Kentucky is a program that, by all accounts, openly mocks the NCAA's mission by the way it is run. Coach John Calipari has had two final fours vacated for ineligibility issues at UMass and Memphis. There was major rumblings about Kentucky's recruitment of their best player, Anthony Davis, and whether or not his family was paid to attend school. Ohio State's had its own major issues on the football side, with the Terrelle Pryor tattoo and impermissible benefits scandal. These are the programs that the NCAA is thrilled to have playing next weekend? In a season in which Syracuse is the villain, these are the heroes?
Many of these issues have nothing to do with the actual players that will take the court in New Orleans, but that is just the point. Demonizing Syracuse's players over issues that happened off the court years, even decades, earlier is completely unfair, especially when the team's had to fight through these issues all season long, and had done so admirably. Adding the Fab Melo ineligibility concerns to this list is laughable. It was very unfortunate that Fab couldn't play in the tournament, and with all signs pointing to this being an academic issue, as it was in January, I think that fans have the right to be mad at him. However, failing out of school does not make someone a bad person. It doesn't make him a villain.
This is not to say the players mentioned above are any worse or less deserving than those on our team. People make mistakes in college, athlete or otherwise. We're imperfect beings. Stigmatizing Syracuse's players for the program's issues this year would be similar to doing the same to Thomas Robinson, but you don't hear one word about his issues from last year. It doesn't fit the narrative.
The reason that Syracuse doesn't deserve to be in New Orleans is that it lost to Ohio State-nothing more, nothing less. Had the Orange won, and gone on to cut down the nets on Monday, the NCAA would not forever be trapped in its tower. The Orange could have been treated as heroes, players who overcame more adversity in one season than almost any other in the history of the sport. Players who embody the values of college athletics. It would have been a great story.