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Syracuse’s actions underscore an obligation to academic integrity


Being shocked about big-time college sports has become virtually impossible.

If we learn that academic advisors plant hidden cameras and wireless earpieces on players, in order to provide correct answers during exams, we’d wonder what took so long.

If a report reveals that the athletic department operates a campus brothel to entertain athletes and recruits, we’d figure it’s a Power 5 perk.

If we hear about prominent boosters who bankroll a slush fund that players use as a private ATM and personal line of credit, we’d focus on the amount more than the deed.

Perhaps the only surprise left anymore is when someone on the inside, an employee who risks being chewed up and spit out by the machine, has the courage to step forward and say: “Enough.”

One or more members of Syracuse University’s College of Arts & Sciences played the hero (or the goat depending on perspective) in the NCAA investigation that cost men’s basketball coach Jim Boehim 108 victories last week. According to the NCAA, the college expressed concern over a grade change during the 2011-12 season.

“Specifically, the college questioned the timing and impact on student-athlete 7’s (former defensive standout Fab Melo’s) eligibility,” the NCAA reported. “The college also expressed concern that over a year had passed since student-athlete 7 completed the course.”

After a probe that covered 12 years and took eight years to complete, the NCAA cited Syracuse for “a lack of institutional control,” also finding it guilty of improper benefits and failure to enforce its drug policy.

Avoiding suspension despite flunking tests for recreational drugs and being paid for “volunteer work” at the local YMCA are legitimate violations.

But they’re essentially misdemeanors compared to grade-fixing, which unlike other no-nos makes a farce of higher education’s mission.

No matter what student-athletes do in dorm rooms or off campus, there can’t be a separation of state, a wall between the classroom and the court/field. Universities must demand a level of academic integrity if they want both aspects in “college sports” to be taken seriously.

Boosters, agents, drug dealers, car salesmen, memorabilia collectors, hangers-on … and even coaches don’t have the vested interest that faculty members should have in ensuring and assessing student-athlete learning. The same goes for administrators (at least those with offices away from the sports complex).

But according to the NCAA and reporting by the Syracuse Post-Standard, athletic director Daryl Gross met with at least seven other employees – including an assistant provost – after Melo had been declared ineligible when the second semester began in January 2012. The Orange needed him on the court and the gathering was to discuss alternatives for getting him back in uniform.

“As the institution acknowledged at the hearing, a meeting like this, aimed at an individual student-athlete’s eligibility options, had previously never occurred at the institution,” the report said.

It was a conspiracy to commit fraud.

A professor agreed to change a year-old grade if Melo submitted a paper, the paper ultimately was written by athletic department staffers. Multiple personnel from athletics and academics exerted pressure to have the grade changed quickly, before Melo missed another game.

The director of compliance emailed the executive vice president/chief financial officer and said the vice chancellor would be “very disappointed” if the request was not approved.

Voices in the College of Arts & Sciences questioned the change right away but Melo was cleared two days later. The unauthorized assistance came to light during a school investigation after the NCAA questioned the speedy process.

It was fast, but Boehim and Gross – for starters – should be flushed ever quicker.

“I came here in 1962 and I’m not going anywhere,” the 70-year-old coach told a booster group Sunday, drawing loud applause and a standing ovation.

The sanctions dropped Boehim from No. 2 to No. 6 on the all-time wins list (858), but he’s still on the Mount Rushmore of active coaches alongside Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino.

You might notice that the others are in the midst of their own scandals, including a fake-classes scandal at the North Carolina that delves deeper into academic deception.

No coach is too big to fire, despite appearances and despite the crazy, infamous remark from one college president: “I’m just hoping that (Jim Tressel) doesn’t dismiss me,” Ohio State’s E. Gordon Gee said in 2011 before a sea of lies regarding memorabilia and tattoos led him and the football coach to resign.

Firing Gross isn’t even debatable. And I don’t care what Boehim knew or when. It’s his job to be informed on a timely basis, not turn a blind eye and hope everything is done within the rules.

But still, Boehim is just a coach and his authority shouldn’t extend to the classroom.

Unlike sexual assault victims who fear the consequences of fighting the tide and perhaps sidelining star athletes, speaking up must be part of the job for professors and other academic faculty members when pressured to do wrong.

Otherwise, colleges should make classes, homework and exams optional for athletes and be upfront about it.

That’s about the only possible only shock left.

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