The decision was conveniently timed, strikingly transparent and thoroughly predictable.
Syracuse announced Wednesday that it has self-imposed a postseason ban on its basketball program this March in response to an NCAA investigation into past infractions, a punishment that doesn't pack nearly the punch it would other years. The Orange were already in major jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008, so Syracuse likely saw a chance to slap itself on the wrist now and perhaps stave off future penalties for teams equipped to go deeper into the postseason.
Though Syracuse's 15-7 overall record this season suggests it was in decent position to eke out an NCAA bid prior to Wednesday's announcement, most mock brackets didn't include the Orange as of today and most analysts projected they wouldn't make it.
The only two decent wins Syracuse has this season came against Iowa and Louisiana Tech, neither one of which are shoo-ins to make the NCAA tournament. Furthermore, the Orange finish the season with a seven-game gauntlet that includes a pair of matchups with fourth-ranked Duke, road tests at 10th-ranked Notre Dame and dangerous NC State and visits from third-ranked Virginia, 10th-ranked Louisville and former Big East foe Pittsburgh.
Syracuse had only a slim chance of scrounging up enough wins against that schedule to end up on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble, yet the school does not acknowledge that was even a consideration in opting to remove itself from the ACC tournament, the NCAA tournament and the NIT. Instead the statement released by the school professes the postseason ban was simply "a means of acknowledging past mistakes."
"I am very disappointed that our basketball team will miss the opportunity to play in the post-season this year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said in the statement. "Senior Rakeem Christmas has been an outstanding member of the team for the past four years. However, I supported this decision and I believe the University is doing the right thing by acknowledging that past mistakes occurred. Our players have faced adversity and challenges before. I know they will rise to this challenge by keeping our program strong and continuing to make our University proud."
Ah, yes. The players. The biggest victims in this.
While the timing of Syracuse's self-imposed postseason ban may be best for the school and its basketball program, it certainly isn't ideal for the 13 players who had nothing to do with potential infractions committed years before they got to campus.
Had Syracuse waited until the offseason to self-impose a postseason ban for 2016, seniors on this year's would still have a chance to finish their careers the right way and returning players would then have the choice whether to transfer or stay with the Orange. Instead the school has robbed its current players of the chance to strive for an NCAA tournament bid and has left them with little to play for in the coming weeks.
In fairness to Syracuse, the school was merely taking advantage of the best option available to its basketball program under NCAA rules. It's up to the NCAA to protect the rights of its student-athletes and ban schools from issuing self-imposed postseason bans during the season.
The biggest remaining question in the wake of Wednesday's news is whether Syracuse's self-imposed sanctions satisfy the NCAA or whether the governing body will determine that the Orange deserve further punishment.
Since neither the NCAA nor Syracuse has disclosed the evidence in question, it's difficult to answer that yet. Nonetheless, NCAA officials surely are smart enough to see Syracuse's postseason ban during a rebuilding year for what it is — a shrewd yet transparent attempt to avoid future punishment without actually costing itself much in the present.
- - - - - - -