In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on November 29, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I am simply amazed by the restraint being shown by the media and, in fact, almost everyone with regard to the Bernie Fine sex abuse allegations at Syracuse University, especially in light of the unrestrained, virtually out-of-control assault on “everything Penn State” in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.

Sure, Syracuse has fired Fine after being “shaken” by troubling new allegations including a kind of “smoking gun” recorded phone conversation featuring Fine’s wife and one of the accusers from a decade ago.


Where is the outrage on behalf of the two former ball boys who have made the claims of sexual abuse at the hands of a now former Syracuse assistant basketball coach? 

Where is the outpouring of concern from the student body and the university administration for the alleged victims who, unlike Penn State’s known victims, are former members of the Syracuse University community and its basketball program?

Where is the SU alumni fund-raising for child abuse/welfare charities?

Where are student/faculty townhall meetings to discuss the ramifications of child abuse and how to help the community heal?

Where are the child welfare advocates seeking a golden opportunity to educate the university community on how to identify sexual abuse and how to effectively deal with it?

Where is the demand for transparency and accountability from the Syracuse administration to ensure that this never happens again?

Where is the threat of lost revenue from advertisers looking to distance themselves from a program caught in scandal?

Where is the utter shock and dismay at comments made by Syracuse head basketball coach, Jim Boeheim, who called the accusers “liars” and intimated strongly that they were gold-digging in light of the Sandusky scandal?

Where is the 2011 Syracuse internal investigation into the 2005 internal investigation that failed to turn-up evidence that is now known to have been readily available?  Evidence that now appears to be the basis for the firing of Fine.

Where is the disbelief that no one from the Syracuse administration contacted law enforcement regarding their 2005 internal investigation into alleged child abuse involving a university employee?

Where is the NCAA investigation into the “failure of institutional control” that permitted an alleged sexual predator to remain on the job and potentially in contact with teenage boys affiliated with the basketball program?

Where is the Big East conference weighing-in on the appropriateness of Syracuse continuing to play for the league championship and an NCAA Tournament berth as a representative of the conference?

Where are the second thoughts from the ACC about whether inviting Syracuse to join its conference is a good idea in light of current events?

Where is the Department of Education investigation into whether Syracuse violated the Clery Act which requires the reporting of on-campus crime or facing a loss of federal funding?

Where is the “rush to judgment” of those associated with the accused that seemed to be permissible in the Penn State case?

Where are the demands for Boeheim’s head in light of his “in-your-face” defense of Fine?

Where are the questions of “how could Boeheim not be aware (or at least suspicious) of Fine’s alleged actions involving the victims?”  (Honestly, 36 years of working together… neighbors… two of the alleged victims with direct ties to the basketball program.)

Where is the shame of being personally affiliated with a school that could permit an alleged predator to use university facilities and events and the cache’ of the Syracuse athletic program to lure his victims?

Where is the “moral obligation” of those connected to the Syracuse case to have “done more?”

I know there’s no indictment or charges filed in the Fine case, yet.  And Bernie Fine has been adamant in declaring the accusations are “patently false.”  Just the same, as noted above, the Syracuse community has a lot of catching up to do on the “assuring this won’t happen again” front.  And regardless of whether the Fine matter ever reaches a court of law, there’re a lot of questions that the university and others linked to this case still need to answer.

Just like the Sandusky case, the Syracuse accusations could have been completely dealt with long before now.  Syracuse law enforcement appears to have initially been disinterested in the case based on the flimsiest of excuses—the statute of limitations had expired because the alleged victim who made the first attempt to report the abuse was over the age of 18.  (Seriously though, didn’t this deserve, at minimum, more than a cursory look from the cops?  Or another look at New York state law?)

ESPN, which initially broke the story, actually sat on critical information for years—reportedly never sharing the recorded phone call between Fine’s wife and the accuser with Syracuse University or the police.  ESPN claims it held back on reporting the initial allegations because the accuser’s story could not be corroborated, but the sports network still could have notified authorities of what it had found since the accusations involved children, and the target of the allegations still had the potential of ongoing contact with other boys and young men in the Syracuse basketball program.  Obviously, ESPN has now made the phone recording and the story public (although the accuser reportedly is the one who gave the recording to police). But, frankly I wonder if the university had been aware of the recorded phone call back in 2005 that it would have fired Fine then and, at least, disconnected Fine from access to the program that he allegedly used to lure the victims.

ESPN has also been publicly accused by one sportswriter at FOX of shoddy journalism—using the cover of the Sandusky case in an attempt to railroad Fine with sensational accusations.  I still think the bigger issue here is ESPN appearing to protect its “exclusive story” at the expense of the alleged victims.  Why did it take eight years for ESPN to finally hire a specialist to “confirm” the identity of the woman’s voice on the call with the initial accuser?  ESPN claims that it didn’t have an “independent voice match” with which to compare the wife’s voice until recently.  That aside, didn’t ESPN have a “moral responsibility” to involve law enforcement once they determined they could not confirm the truth behind the accusations?   A simple call to police to verify that the cops had, in fact, declined to pursue the accuser’s case based on the statute of limitations would have confirmed a portion of the accuser’s story and might have spurred the police into action again.  Just as Joe Paterno could theoretically have been the 800-pound gorilla in getting police involved with Sandusky after the 2002 shower incident, the knowledge that ESPN was looking into the Fine case (and had evidence unknown to authorities) might have forced the police to take a closer look and, who knows, maybe crack the case 6, 7, 8 years ago.

Whether or not he had prior knowledge of Fine’s alleged actions (or even an inkling that something was not right), Jim Boeheim’s public reaction to the re-surfacing of the accusations was out of line.  Unlike Paterno, Boeheim felt it was necessary to defend his longtime assistant with words he might live to regret.  Child abuse advocates were upset when Boeheim attacked the accusers by calling them “liars” who just wanted money.  The advocacy groups correctly felt that this attitude was insensitive to victims of abuse and could frighten possible additional Syracuse victims from coming forward. Boeheim has since been forced to apologize for those statements and to support, at least for public consumption, the firing of Fine.

Boeheim was also quick to try to re-cast the Syrasuce case as completely different from the Sandusky one.  “I’m not Joe Paterno!,” Boeheim told the media.  And, he was right in one key sense.  Unlike Paterno, Boeheim missed an opportunity to cut Fine off from the university six years ago.  Despite police opting not to legally pursue Sandusky after the first abuse allegation surfaced in 1998, Paterno quietly pushed Sandusky into retirement (fired him???).  You may not agree that was Paterno’s intent at the time, and you may not be pleased with the handling of the later incident at PSU, but had Boeheim done something similar with Fine in the midst of the ’05 university investigation, this would be a far different story today.  A story that might not have to end with the dismissal of Jim Boeheim.

Fire Jim Boeheim?  Are you crazy? What did he do? How could he have known what was going on?

How could he not know something was wrong?  The one accuser claims Boeheim saw him in Fine’s bed on a road trip.  Add to that, the accusations and the 2005 university investigation… Boeheim could have pulled the trigger on Bernie Fine.  It wouldn’t have solved everything.  (It certainly didn’t solve everything at Penn State since Sandusky was using a charity beyond the school’s reach to allegedly find his victims.)  However, Boeheim would be in better shape to survive this mess today had he distanced himself from Fine in ’05.  At least, Boeheim would probably have not damaged his credibility with his bullheaded defense of Fine. Sure, Jim has apologized for his rash statements, but a quick review of on-line published comments from child welfare groups seems to suggest that the apology isn’t having the desired impact or acceptance.

Does Boeheim get canned?  Well, the Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor gave Boeheim the old vote of confidence.  That worked at Penn State right up until their president was fired.  ESPN cites sources as saying Boeheim won’t quit.  That sounds exactly like Joe Paterno’s gameplan.  Good luck with that, Jim, and don’t forget to send a strongly worded letter to the Syracuse Board of Trustees telling them not to waste any time focusing on your job security.

The bottom line is this… It’s Boeheim’s basketball program at the center of this issue… It’s one of his (until very recently) longtime assistants… It involves alleged victims who were part of Boeheim’s team… It’s on Boeheim’s watch… It’s Boeheim’s failure to maintain control… and so on.

If Penn State can fire Joe Paterno, Syracuse can cut ties with Jim Boeheim.  It’s really that simple. And, unlike Penn State, Syracuse already has a hand-picked successor under contract—Mike Hopkins.  Nothing like a smooth transition.

The media (professional and social) are watching Syracuse carefully.  If Fine is indicted or charged, the tide will rise rapidly around Syracuse, and there will be a feeding frenzy that could rival what we saw at Penn State.

Boeheim’s once sterling career is now tarnished.  Termination is a very real possibility.  And, there are already those who feel that firing Boeheim is a necessity. For all we know right now, there’s an envelope with Boeheim’s name on it and inside there’s a phone number for him to call… This all sounds very familiar.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:

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