On Monday, May 18th, Syracuse Orange fans had an understanding. Despite the fact that the No. 44 had been retired and taken out of circulation in 2005, there was in fact the possibility that an SU football player could still wear the number so long as a committee of learned SU folk said so. We've known this since 2013.
On Tuesday, May 19th, interim AD Pete Sala stood before a microphone at an event introducing Plaza 44 and said the number 44 was officially back and available for a member of the SU football squad. Sala's exact words were, "With the blessing of Jim Brown and Floyd Little, the No. 44 is back." This was accompanied by a tweet from the official Syracuse Football Twitterfeed that read, "It's back."
On Wednesday, May 20th, SU Athletics' Senior Vice President for Public Affairs Kevin Quinn sent an email to Syracuse.com that said, in fact, nothing had changed. The number 44 would be reserved for "special circumstances" and "yesterday's announcement was simply a reiteration of that commitment."
So, uh, what the fuck happened? Let's try to figure it out.
1. Powerful SU Alums Made A Big Stink
We know that Donovan McNabb was not a big fan of the decision. Remember, Donny isn't just a football legend, he's also on the Board of Trustees. That's not nothing. It also stands to reason that some of the other folks on the Board weren't happy. Anytime you get a bunch of old people and you make a big traditional change in their backyard, they're bound to go NIMBY on you. Throw in that almost all of those people are wealthy and donate large chunks of money to the university, that's going to give them a sense of control. There might even be some bigwig SU alums not associated with the BoT who don't like the move and made it known that their upcoming donation might be affected. That's the kind of news that'll make SU change course without explanation real quick.
2. Syracuse Athletics Forgot To Check With Syracuse University
Despite the fact that SUA is a part of SU, they do have a history of working rather autonomously from the rest of the university. It's possible that Chancellor Syverud wasn't fully aware of the impact the ceremony and announcement would have and made it known. Or perhaps Syverud was the one who got an earful from whiny donors upset by the news.
3. Syracuse Athletics Puts Way Too Much Stock in Keith Olbermann's Opinion
Not surprisingly, there was some pushback on the concept Wednesday by some older folk. Locally, the whiz-bang kid made his feelings known. PTI wasn't all rosy about the decision. And Keith Olbermann put the un-retirement of 44 on his Worsts list. Could SU Athletics have put more stock in these opinions over the overwhelming positive opinion from the SU fanbase? Seems like something they might do. I'm not sure why. Do you know anyone who cares what Keith Olbermann thinks? I'm probably right in the sweet spot of what would be considered his demographic and I think he's an obnoxious blowhard who doesn't really understand half the things he talks about. I value my grandmother's opinion more. So I'd be pretty pissed off to learn opinions like his are the reason SU chickened out.
4. Syracuse Athletics Just Has No Idea What It's Doing
There's been a running theme in recent years of SU Athletics lacking common sense, turning mole hills into mountains and generally screwing up big ceremonies & events. A lack of attention to detail as well as a critical lack of understanding chain of command have often been at fault. We usually associated it with DOC Gross' hubris and Joe Giansante's bullshitting but both of them are out of the house now (though Gross is clearly still involved). So what gives? Is this an institutional issue that's bigger than them? Is it a case of too many cooks and too many people thinking themselves more important than they are? Perhaps the new AD will clean house and end this string of SNAFUs, but, maybe not.
I can't quite think of anything else that would have led to Wednesday's awkward, unnecessary announcement. Regardless, it's taken what was one of the best pieces of PR Syracuse Athletics has generated in a long time and basically shit all over it. Now there's all this tension about committees (whose members they refuse to share except for Floyd Little) and rules and we'll-tell-you-when parenting.
It feels like SU Athletics gave us something and then slapped us on the wrist for getting too excited about it.
It feels like the same old bullshit.
According to Syracuse University now, nothing has changed.
So, thanks for nothing.