Whether or not you agree that the charging call on Syracuse forward C.J. Fair at the end last night’s SU vs. Duke game, was, in fact, fair, there was one decision that was considerably more questionable – coach Jim Boeheim’s decision to explode on the referees. As a lifelong Syracuse fan (and graduate), I was very surprised to see his actions.
At the moment, there are two camps of SU fans. Some believe that Boeheim’s tirade was warranted, giving the timing of the call, the fact that the game was at Duke (where Coach K and the Blue Devils allegedly always get the calls), and the idea that “the game was already over”. Others believe that Boeheim removed any chance for his team to win the game, and therefore, should have controlled himself in the situation. Count me as part of the latter camp.
At the time of the call, SU trailed 60-58 with 10.4 seconds to play. The Orange (assuming they didn’t get a steal) would have had to foul Duke immediately, sending the Blue Devils to the line for two free throws. Maybe they hit both, and SU doesn’t have a shot. But what if they missed at least one? Syracuse would have had a chance to tie the game on its final possession. You simply can’t deny that Boeheim’s tirade, which resulted in four free throws and the ball for Duke, cost them at least the chance to stage one last comeback.
But this isn’t just about mathematical logic. Boeheim took the game out of his players’ hands. And that’s going to be tough for some of these players to overcome, psychologically.
Remember now, while Boeheim has been the head coach at Syracuse for over 37 years, his players only get to stick around for four, maybe five seasons max. Each game is magnified, especially for some of these kids who won’t be playing at the professional level. Some of these student-athletes are asked to travel around the country, practice hard every day, play big-time minutes, and maintain good enough grades to stay eligible. It’s a difficult work-life balance, and in order to stay the course, players need to believe that the coaching staff has their best interests in mind. I’m not so sure that was the case last night.
If you don’t believe me, check out what Fair told reporters after the game. He believes Syracuse still would have had a chance to win, had Boeheim not exploded. From ESPN:
Did Fair think Boeheim’s outburst cost Syracuse the game? Fair paused, then told a group of reporters: “Yeah.”
“Maybe if we didn’t get the tech we might get the chance to win,” he said. “What did we lose by, five? (The Orange lost by six.) He made three of four free throws. You do the math.”
Boeheim has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, given his success over the past few decades. I understand that many people believe that Boeheim’s blow-up was an example of him “standing up for his players”. But plain and simple, in a game with huge implications for both the ACC standings and the Orange’s seed in the NCAA tournament, Boeheim lost his cool at the wrong time. And he better hope that Fair’s words aren’t indicative of what the rest of his players think.
Because if he’s lost his players’ trust, he’s lost way more than one regular season basketball game.