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Syracuse University can’t just make things go away anymore

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This method of dealing with things clearly isn’t working...

Hollywood Bridging The Military Civilian Divide Hosted By Syracuse University Photo by Marc Flores/Getty Images for Syracuse University

When Syracuse University’s 2016 tax filings were made public, Dino Babers’s competitive salary made the headlines. However, the most curious bit of information was the pay of former Syracuse Orange Athletic Director (DOCTOR) Daryl Gross.

Despite leaving the role of AD in 2015, he was still paid just north of $1 million in 2016 -- a year in which he also left for Cal State Los Angeles mid-way through.

Syracuse.com’s Chris Carlson had some great reporting today on Gross’s 2016 compensation, which came on the heels of NCAA sanctions he was at the center of — unless you ask Gross himself, that is. Carlson pulled quotes directly from Gross’s deposition for a gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit involving Cal State L.A. (he is not a defendant in the case).

Syracuse DOCTOR GROSS

The quotes are Gross’s tenure, and his “CYA” style of doing things, in a nutshell:

“You know, the coach (Boeheim) served a nine-game suspension,” Gross said. “He was the one that was charged. He had been charged in 1991 as well. So that’s -- and the PR of it wasn’t great.”

“I don’t know if you know the degree of what had already occurred at Syracuse before I even got there. As an athletic director, you’re going to inherit whatever is there, and sometimes that’s just part of the deal, but I am very comfortable with decisions I made.”

While Syracuse cut corners around the university and athletic department, Gross was paid handsomely, either in spite of or because of his role in the NCAA controversy SU athletics was embroiled in on his watch. Carlson doesn’t suggest as much, but I’ll speculate here: Clearly Gross knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak, at Syracuse.

The problem is, he doesn’t know which ones they are.

Because to see the statements above is to see a man who does not accept any responsibility for transgressions large or small at the institution where he worked for over 10 years. It’s made worse by the fact that SU seems completely fine with this fact -- something that has become far too commonplace under Chancellor Kent Syverud.

Syverud, like any chief executive, has to make tough and unpopular choices. However, in some of the biggest moments for him as chancellor (a capacity he’s served in since early 2014), he’s seemingly opted for the path that wishes things go away instead of dealing with them head-on.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Some examples:

The aforementioned tax filings revealed that Lou Marcoccia, former CFO at Syracuse, received over $3.2 million in compensation in 2016, the year he retired. He was the highest-paid employee at SU in 2016.

In April 2018, the Syracuse chapter of the Theta Tau fraternity was revealed to have created videos espousing bigoted, hateful and intolerant views of numerous minority groups and the disabled. This was the most outward instance of campus Greek life requiring some sort of intervention from the school itself. Syverud issued a written correspondence, but was not available for further comment until a significant delay (he also missed a forum discussion, which he later apologized for).

The conclusion of the 2017-18 SU men’s basketball season was set to mark the end of Jim Boeheim’s tenure as coach. Now, I don’t want Jim gone, and I’m not a fan of Gross. But... Gross does make a point on Boeheim. And he isn’t necessarily larger than the institution itself. Yet, the date came and went and now Jim’s pretty much here until he doesn’t want to be. Syverud’s never really addressed that (probably because there was never a signed deal around his departure date to begin with...).

In 2016, the “Einhorn Family Walk” was controversially force-fed to campus despite a $6 million cost that seemed unnecessary — and also wasn’t shared publicly until much later in the process.

In 2015, former Syracuse spokesperson Joe Giansante went on administrative leave the day after Gross resigned as AD. Never really explained. Giansante is now at Oregon.

Also from 2015, the seemingly hasty buyout offer to staff that’s unlikely to have had any positive effect on campus morale. That ties into Bain Capital’s hefty involvement in campus affairs as well, which TNIAAM alum Michael Burke reported on this year.

This isn’t to just blindly point a finger solely at Syverud for any and all organizational issues at Syracuse. Rather, it’s just to point out that the way of things has been the path of least resistance: Make it go away and then deal with the potential fallout later.

No matter the size of a company or campus, that’s not necessarily a sustainable strategy. And it’s a puzzling one for a school that houses the top communications school in the country.

Syverud and Syracuse University can turn things around, obviously. But there has to be a different way forward that involves a bit more transparency and perhaps some additional financial prudence, as well. There are things we can applaud the DOCTOR for while he was at Syracuse (see: Olympic sports, getting into the ACC). Not sure that’s worth a sweetheart deal to hang around campus (and eventually, leave early), however.