I’ll be 51 in 2 weeks. For most of my life, I have been a fan of Syracuse University sports – namely basketball and football, and more recently (only for half of my life), lacrosse. I would like to say that it began as a casual interest and grew from there, but that would be a lie. I have always been a “fanatic”. I remember as a child watching the then Orangemen on TV, but it was nothing like today. Games on TV were too few and far between, unlike now where it is quite the opposite. It was 1975 where my interest really kicked into high-gear. Syracuse was in the NCAA tournament for the 2nd consecutive year, and while I didn’t know it then (and couldn’t comprehend it even if I did), the modern day era of the Syracuse Basketball program was born. Back then, the NCAA tournament only welcomed 16 teams – a far cry from the current 68 teams! Anyway, in those days, most people didn’t know what or where Syracuse was, so it was a big, big deal. The Orangemen unexpectedly made it to the Final Four that year, eventually losing to Kentucky in the National Semifinals. All of a sudden, the winters of Syracuse provided more to do than ski or toboggan. Two years later, Jim Boeheim became the Head Coach, two years after that, the Big East Conference was born, ESPN was slowly catching on, and, well, the rest is history.
I remember with great affection attending games with my parents at Manley Field House, enjoying the Louie and Bouie Show and the birth of the Big East.
The experience was awe-inspiring to me. Since I was a local (or “towny” as my friends call me), there wasn’t a lot of “big-city” things to do in Syracuse, so when the basketball team began it’s trajectory to national prominence, Central New York was fully on-board. The Carrier Dome opened in 1980, and that was a HUGE deal. It was the only domed stadium on a college campus, and was one of only a few in the nation. The fans came out in droves, and it was an event every game. Not to diminish the football team – it was slowly building a brand as well – but at that time, Syracuse was a basketball town.
Over the years, the basketball program flourished for the most part, and the fan base grew. Since my first time attending a game at Manley Field House, I knew I wanted to go to Syracuse University. Looking back (hell, even at that time), I knew this was not the best reason to choose a college, but I didn’t care. I was going to be a part of that!
1982 was my freshman year at Syracuse, and I was “all-in” in terms of basketball and football. I bought my season tickets and never missed a game. We had a group that went to each game together, and there were many Haffenreffer beers consumed prior to every game. The obsession grew, and my freshman year became a blur as I became an “Orangemen Major”. It’s a small wonder that I didn’t flunk out of Syracuse, but that’s a story for another time.
Fast-foward to 1989. The Syracuse newspaper exposed violations and the NCAA imposed penalties. Fast forward to 2015 and history sort of repeats itself. As a die-hard Orange fan, I think this round of violations were quite minor, although rules were broken, and the penalties were very harsh. When you are as big a fan as I and many others are, it is a lot more than a slap in the face to SU, it’s a punch in the gut to me and the many die-hard fans like me. You have to remember – I’ve been a fan over 80% of my life, so it really hits home.
I know in my heart and through some personal encounters with Jim Boeheim that he is not a cheat. Nonetheless, the buck stops here as they say, so Jim will pay the price. Syracuse basketball has just come out of its best 5-year stretch in school history (in terms of wins, a run to the Final Four, etc), and despite the penalties, still has the best recruiting class coming in since Jim Boeheim arrived. So while the penalties will hurt, they certainly won’t derail the program, which makes me happy. Hopefully when Jim Boeheim does retire (he is 70 years old, after all), the program will continue on its enormously successful path, and continue to provide me and its many fans years of excitement, and another National Championship!
You see, I do live and die by Syracuse Basketball, and for that I make no apologies.