Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jim Boeheim and a sense of entitlement

Third ranked Syracuse University’s basketball team played a routine pre-season game at the Carrier Dome Tuesday evening. The Orange, now 7-0, pounded Eastern Michigan 84-48 in front of 19,649. The result was never in doubt.

Basketball aside, the game served as a platform for the Orange’s coach Jim Boeheim and the swirling sexual abuse allegations that resulted in the firing of Boeheim’s long-time associate head coach Bernie Fine.

“It’s hard to put everything into words,’’ said Boeheim, glancing occasionally at his notes. “I thought a lot today about different things. I’m saddened in many ways by what’s unfolded. I’m looking forward to a time when we can talk and learn from what has happened. There’s an important investigation going on, which I fully support. I can’t add anything to it by speaking more about that now.’’

When ESPN first broke the Bernie Fine sexual allegations story two weeks ago, Boeheim staunchly defended Fine. Boeheim suggested accusers Bobby Davis and Mike Lang were liars and were chasing a payday.

The Hall of Fame coach was ‘all-in’ standing by his friend of nearly 50 years. The two men first met when Boeheim was the Orange’s student manager in 1963.

“I supported a friend,’’ Boeheim said. “That’s what I thought I did. If you’ve known somebody and worked with them for 36 years and known them for 48 years and went to school with them, I think you owe a debt of allegiance and gratitude for what he did for the program. That’s what my reaction was. So be it.’’

Is it so easy to dismiss what Boeheim said? In the days immediately following the terrible indictment filed against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the entire Penn State football program, and in particular Joe Paterno, was under the media microscope.

The Penn State story was the lead item on virtually every national newscast for days. It has been suggested Penn State needs to adopt a scorched earth philosophy in dealing with the fall-out, time to fire everyone associated with the current Penn State football program.

When it comes to what’s next at Syracuse, Jim Boeheim took control in Tuesday night’s post-game press conference when it came to talking about his future with Syracuse University.

“What happened on my watch, we will see,’’ Boeheim said. “When the investigation is done, we will find out what happened on my watch. We don’t know what’s happening on my watch, right now. There’s an investigation underway. There are no charges. There are no indictments. There is no grand jury. There is no action being taken. When that is done, then we will see what is happening on my watch.’’

Boeheim is notorious for his smugness. He doesn’t look comfortable, even after 36 years as the head coach for a major college basketball program.

No, Jim Boeheim isn’t above the law and yes, he must be held accountable, as Joe Paterno. However, from the outside looking in, Jim Boeheim looked like he believed no matter what happened to Bernie Fine, his job was safe.

It’s impossible not to read between the lines. Jim Boeheim is saying ‘bring it on; I’m ready for whatever you have to say!’

The Penn State scandal will forever serve as a great example for crisis communications students. So many mistakes were made.

Jim Boeheim is correct in saying there are no charges, no indictments, and no grand jury. He’s standing behind the “facts” that there have been indictments linked to the Penn State football program and there haven’t been indictments associated with the Syracuse basketball program, at least not yet.

“I’ve never worried about my job status in 36 years,’’ Boeheim said. “Many years I didn’t have a contract extension. I didn’t have anything. When I worry about that, I may have to get a job with you guys.’’

Jim Boeheim’s words drip of sarcasm and are about as sincere as the Fox News network supporting President Obama’s health care policies.

Earlier Tuesday Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor offered Boeheim a vote of confidence.

"Coach Boeheim is our coach; he's getting the team ready tonight," Cantor said. "We're very pleased with what he said Sunday night, and we stand by it."

As of this writing Cantor hasn’t talked about Boeheim’s future with Syracuse, but it’s a safe bet Boeheim will be coaching the Orange for the remainder of the 2011-12 Orange basketball season.

“This is the first time I’ve been in the press room where there’s more people here than at the game,” he quipped. “Is there something special going on tonight?”

Jim your team was playing your usual November cupcake schedule. Your long-time associate head coach had been fired 48 hours earlier for alleged sexual molestations against young boys, and you’re wondering why the media is at your post-game press game conference?

When asked if he was responsible for what allegedly took place Boeheim asked the media member who asked the question a question of his own.

We’re talking about the alleged sexual molestation of young boys, allegations that at least three young men were molested by a man who you stood by two weeks ago. You may have been right to stand up for him then and you may want to shift the focus to the boys on the court and the 2011-2012 season, but you’re not helping anyone by being arrogant and almost defiant in dealing with the media.

"That's where he made a mistake," Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates PR told Yahoo Sports. "That's a fork in the road in the moment. That's the tipping point that could have made people say, 'Wow, they handled things totally different than Penn State,' and instead he did just the opposite. He followed in their footsteps."

"It's pretty difficult for him to say anything that's going to placate the public and correct what he's already said," said University of Arkansas professor Stephen Dittmore, author of the book "Sport public relations: Managing organizational communication according to Yahoo Sports."

"Anytime you get a crisis that involves things society would find morally inappropriate, you need to show empathy and compassion. Even if you don't agree with the allegations, you have to show some compassion to the human element that's involved there. I think coach Boeheim probably did himself a disservice by reacting so strongly initially. He should have taken a very neutral approach."

Guys like Jim Boeheim and Joe Paterno are not above the law not matter how important they are, or were, on their respective campuses.

Penn State University fired Joe Paterno, in large part because they believed there had been irreparable harm to the image of their school. It remains to be seen if Syracuse University’s Board of Trustees will feel the same way about Jim Boeheim.

It takes a lifetime to build a legacy but mere moments to for it to forever tarnished.

I’m sure Joe Paterno wishes he had done things differently. He seems ready to accept that he is, at least in part, responsible for what took place under his watch at Penn State.

Jim Boeheim is only ready to do what he does best, and that’s challenge for an NCAA championship.

He also seems quite prepared to be defiant with the media. It’s time to check your attitude Jim Boeheim. It’s time to start acting like a Hall of Fame coach. You may have done nothing wrong but if the allegations are proven to be true you are guilty of not knowing what took place “under your watch,” and for that you need to be held accountable.

Stop being your own worst enemy and start understanding why this story is as important as it is to so many people.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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