No matter what NCAA says, Jim Boeheim now has 1,000 wins and everybody knows it
That doesn't mean it wasn't right to punish Syracuse, just not with hollow, vacated wins
The NCAA can officially take away 101 of Jim Boeheim's wins, but it can't take away his reality. His reality -- the actual facts in the tangible universe you and I live in -- is that, 1,000 times since Nov. 26, 1976, Syracuse basketball has finished a game as the victor. In every one of those games, Boeheim was on the sideline, employed as SU's coach.
Spinning it more cynically: Boeheim has dealt opponents losses exactly 1,000 times in his career. The NCAA, as commentator Jay Bilas has accurately and seditiously pointed out multiple times this week, doesn't take the losses away from the teams that Syracuse beat.
Not an alternative fact: Boeheim experienced, on Saturday afternoon, victory for the 1,000th time thanks to the Orange's home-game upset against ninth-ranked Virginia. Cuse pulled out the win in dramatically effective style, coming back from a 12-point halftime deficit. The twist probably gave UVa coach Tony Bennett nightmarish flashbacks to last year's Elite Eight, when Boeheim and Syracuse stunned top-seed Virginia. That remains one of the five most shocking collapses in tournament history.
After Saturday's win, which had less at stake than last year's regional final -- but obviously might mean just as much to Boeheim -- the 72-year-old, famously cantankerous but endlessly defended/loved local couldn't help himself in the postgame on-court interview.
"Whatever number it is I have," Boeheim said on ESPN afterward, "I've been a part of a thousand wins here. I may not have that many on the record, but I've been here for a thousand wins, and that's a lot of wins."
Lots and lots. It's the fourth-most wins in Division-I basketball history. Boeheim is rabidly competitive, and although he can't publicly and explicitly acknowledge owning a thousands wins, he got as close as he possibly could in that moment. Getting to 1,000 is something that he quite clearly has been chasing and looking forward to for the past half-decade.
"This might be one of our best wins -- ever," he added.
And he wasn't saying that just because his team came from behind to beat such a well-coached Cavs team. He was saying that because he'll be celebrating on Saturday. Even if privately, Boeheim and his family, perhaps friends and players, will most likely get a chance to toast to 40-plus years and exactly 1,000 wins. It's a huge deal. Had the NCAA not instituted such a meaningless penalty on Boeheim in 2015, #Boeheim1K would've been a hashtag you saw everywhere; it would've arguably been the biggest story in college basketball this weekend.
I'm not here to cape for all things Cuse and Boeheim, either. He and his program were right to be punished by the NCAA's Committee on Infractions. Former players cheated drug tests. Former players accepted money after dealing with a rogue booster-type who worked at the local YMCA. Former players skirted on the academic level, and for too long Boeheim's program went unchecked.
I would argue Syracuse wasn't punished harshly enough, given the time period (nearly a decade) that spanned the NCAA's probe. If you need a refresher, SU lost eight scholarships (down originally from 12) across four seasons; was put on five-year probation; self-imposed a postseason ban in 2014-15, amid a campaign that wasn't likely to end with an NCAA Tournament appearance anyway; limited the number of coaches who can recruit on the road until June of 2017; paid more than $1.3 million in penalties; and Boeheim was suspended nine games to start the 2015-16 season.
And it still might not have been enough.
But vacating victories has always been hollow discipline, a puny punitive calculation that's mocked by everyone outside the NCAA. You can't Men-in-Black mind-erase what happened. The public record will account for Boeheim's true win total now and when he retires, even if Syracuse's and the NCAA's official record books can't indicate otherwise.
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