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Syracuse Basketball: Jim Boeheim Calls NCAA Sanctions "Unduly Harsh"

Boeheim had plenty to say Thursday. Let's break it down.

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Orange men's basketball head coach Jim Boeheim called the recent NCAA sanctions levied against him and the basketball program "unduly harsh" at a press conference Thursday.

Boeheim held the press conference one day after Syracuse chancellor Kent Syverud issued a statement announcing the head coach's plans to retire in three years. It was his first media availability since the NCAA released its findings on March 6 of violations committed by the Syracuse athletic department over a 10-year period.

He opened the press conference reading a written statement, in which he accepted responsibility for the violations that occurred within the basketball program but denied personal involvement.

"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 activities regarding compliance within the program," he said. "This could not be further from the truth."

Boeheim confirmed reports that he plans to appeal his 9-game suspension, which was one of the penalties handed down to SU. Other sanctions included Syracuse losing 12 scholarships over a four-year period.

"I feel that the NCAA is punishing current and future student-athletes for the conduct of a few individuals who are no longer associated in any way with Syracuse University," he said.

Boeheim cited the NCAA's decision not to impose severe sanctions on the football program, despite the NCAA finding that three football players committed academic fraud, as evidence of the "arbitrary matter in which the NCAA issues its penalties." He would later say that he "loves the football program" and doesn't want to see it penalized.

Boeheim denied the NCAA's assertion that players within the basketball program "freely committed academic fraud," saying that there was only one case of academic fraud during the 10-year period the NCAA investigated. That case involved Fab Melo, who played at Syracuse from 2010 to 2012. Boeheim laid the blame on former director basketball of operations Stan Kissel and receptionist Debora Belanger for inserting citations into a 10-page paper written by Melo. Melo submitted the paper in an attempt to have a grade changed in a class he had taken the previous year.

Boeheim said he encouraged Melo to seek the grade change. He claimed that it is his responsibility to tell players they must get grade changes if they need grade changes to stay eligible.

"He had that opportunity (to get a grade change)," Boeheim said. "He found a teacher that would do that."

Melo had the paper written and submitted in just two days, information that has caused some to raise an eyebrow. But Boeheim pointed out that the paper was about Melo's life, and that he could've written it in "four hours."

"I wasn't really concerned about the content," Boeheim said. "He's not writing the Spanish Inquisition...I did a story on the American Revolution, a 17-page paper, in one night. I guess I better go back and look at my academics."

Boeheim also noted that there were three other student-athletes in the basketball program charged with receiving impermissible benefits, but that those three student-athletes were each found not guilty by the university.

Other violations revealed in the NCAA's findings included the Syracuse athletic department not following the university's drug policy. Boeheim says Syracuse was among only a handful of schools with a drug policy when the violations were committed.

"No one knew that if you have a policy and don't follow it exactly step by step by step, it's the same as violating an NCAA rule," he said. "No coach in the country would have known that. I'll accept responsibility. I'll take the punishment."

Boeheim would not, however, accept responsibility for not attending the postgame press conference following Syracuse's loss at NC State on March 7 -- just one day after the NCAA report was released. Boeheim said he wanted to attend the press conference and limit it only to basketball, but that he was instructed not to attend.

The head coach also said he hadn't read much of the report prior to the game, and that it thus wouldn't have been a good idea to attend.

"It wouldn't have been a productive press conference," he said. "...I would have gone. I was counseled not to go."

Instead, assistant coach Mike Hopkins filled in for Boeheim during the press conference. And that wasn't the last time Hopkins will fill in for Boeheim. The assistant coach will serve as the head coach during Boeheim's suspension next season, and many have speculated that Hopkins will be named the next head coach when Boeheim retires in three years. But Boeheim said there's no guarantee Hopkins will be his successor.

"I believe Mike Hopkins will be a great coach," he said. "I fervently hope that he is the coach here. But that's something the chancellor will decide with the Board of Trustees, like they decide every major issue that happens at Syracuse University. And I decide sometimes what restaurants my family is going to eat at."

One thing has already been decided: Boeheim plans to retire as the Syracuse men's head basketball coach in three years. He revealed that he originally intended on retiring sooner, but the NCAA investigation has prevented such. He said he never considered running from an ongoing investigation.

"This is the focus of my life," he said. "...I had no plans to coach this long. This investigation has made it imperative."

As for his legacy following the release of the NCAA's findings, Boeheim says that people have the right to their own judgments.

"Everybody has their opinion," he said. "Everyone will have their opinion about my coaching ability. That's part of my legacy. The other part of my legacy that I care about is that people in this community and in this nation who are Syracuse people think that I've been loyal to Syracuse University, that I've done everything I can for Syracuse University, and that I've done everything I can for my community...What I really care about is the opinion of those people."