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Boeheim: I'm not bigger than program
Jim Boeheim attempted to put what many see as his Carrier Dome-sized control over all things on this campus in perspective.
“There’s a misconception,” the Syracuse men’s basketball coach said. “Maybe I can clear things up.”
The comments came Tuesday, minutes after the Orange had played their first game — an 84-48 victory over Eastern Michigan — minus associate head coach Bernie Fine, who was fired Sunday amid child molestation allegations. Boeheim, who displayed his defiant side on occasion in the nearly 20 minute-long news conference, said he has so little sway that he was never consulted about the school’s move to the Atlantic Coast Conference or when the athletic director and school chancellor were hired.
“I have say on who starts and which players play,” Boeheim continued. “My assistants work for me, and I have absolute say on everything they do in the basketball program. What people do outside the program, I have very little control (over). To make my point, I think there’s a misconception that since he’s been here for 36 years, he’s bigger than the program.”
It’s what Fine — who was an assistant during the entirety of Boeheim’s tenure here — did outside of his sights that has the only head coach to lead the Orange to a national title in the tournament era on at least a lukewarm seat. Instead of a fiery Boeheim, who called the first two men who accused Fine of sexual misconduct nearly two weeks ago liars, Tuesday’s news conference saw a resolute coach read in a statement that he “can’t add anything to (the investigation) by speaking more about it now.”
Reporters, however, did their best to pry some info from Boeheim, who referred back to the statement, even raising it and waving it for everybody to see.
And Boeheim sounded like a man confident his good name would be restored.
''I do my job. What happened on my watch, we will see. When the investigation is done, we will find out what happened on my watch,'' he said, stressing the last three words each time.
As for his job security, with some advocates calling for him to resign or be fired, he was equally defiant.
''I never worried about my job status in 36 years,'' said Boeheim.
One nugget emerged during Boeheim’s chat with reporters: Ball boys — the first two accusers were ball boys when the alleged abuse occurred — don’t travel with the team, ever. (Boeheim estimated there have been 1,500 ball boys/girls during his time at the school.) Bobby Davis, the first to make the accusations, told ESPN that he slept in the same bed as Fine when some of the instances of molestation took place.
Local and federal authorizes are investigating the accusations, although prosecution could be hindered by the statute of limitations.
“There (are) no ball boys who travel with the team,” Boeheim said. “People who have been ball boys have moved on and done other things. It’s not unusual for those people to travel during tournament time. Not ball boys.”
He expressed regret for calling the first two accusers — Davis and his stepbrother Mike Lang — liars who were seeking a settlement.
“I supported a friend. That’s what I thought I did,” Boeheim said. “If you have worked 36 years, known him for 48 years and went to school with him, you owe a debt of allegiance. That’s what my reaction was.”
Beyond the fans showing their support at the Carrier Dome, the school’s chancellor, Nancy Cantor, along with Boeheim’s players had his back.
"Coach Boeheim is our coach," Cantor told The Associated Press in Albany, NY, earlier in the day.
“We are going stand by him, just like he’d stand by us in any situation,” Syracuse forward Kris Joseph said. “That’s how it’s going to be from now and forever. I know if I ever needed anything in the future, I could always come back here and ask anything of the coaches.”
None of the players interviewed after the game said they have had any contact with Fine since he was put on administrative leave on Nov. 17; Boeheim refused to say whether he had any conversations with Fine while Fine was on leave or since he was fired.
“I was kind of shocked,” Syracuse guard Dion Waiters said. “At the end of the day, everybody is taking responsibility and trying to get everything together. We can’t do anything about it but go out and play basketball.”
The Orange improved to 7-0 with Tuesday’s victory and are ranked fourth in the AP Top 25 poll. The players tried to steer every question back to the team, which is one of Syracuse's most talented since the Carmelo Anthony-led 2002-03 squad that won it all. Not a bad idea when the team is set to face No. 10 Florida on Friday.
“It’s been crazy, but the only thing you can do is focus on basketball,” Waiters said. “It’s about us as a team. Something like this only brings us together, and we have each other’s backs. That’s what we try to do.”