BOULDER — Just so we're clear on how the sausage at Syracuse is made, let's review how the Orange cooked up this five-star puke-fest of a Final Four appearance.
Try not to vomit.
When the NCAA completed its investigation into Syracuse's crooked basketball program, the governing body of college athletics found that a member of Jim Boeheim's staff had used a player's password to exchange emails with a professor — as if the staffer had been the player himself — to keep the star athlete eligible. There was also an instance or three where a secretary wrote papers for a player, and another where up to 10 players violated the school's drug policy and were allowed to practice and play anyway. Go Orange!
It's enough to make you lose your lunch.
Oh, the NCAA punished Syracuse, if you can call it that: One year later, Syracuse is playing in the Final Four. If that time frame sounds familiar, rewind a few years. In February 2011, the NCAA ruled that Jim Calhoun's Connecticut Huskies had a list of major infractions - and two months later UConn reached the Final Four and won a national championship. So if you're a Syracuse fan, you're feeling pretty good about your chances this weekend at NRG Stadium in Houston. If you're a fan of programs that win clean, you might be wondering: When programs like UConn and Syracuse can mock the rules and still reach a Final Four within the next year, shouldn't it be clear the punishment isn't enough?
"There's some frustration," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said Tuesday when I asked if the sport's cheating culture dug under his skin. "I'd by lying if I said there wasn't."
Boyle made certain to qualify his stance on the dark side of the game by saying he's "not casting stones." At least he took a stance, a rare and admirable move when paths cross during the July recruiting period or during stints with USA Basketball. The CU coach also suggested the singular deterrent that could — emphasis on could — persuade the cheaters to play by the rules: Found guilty of the types of violations committed by UConn and Syracuse, a program should be banned from the postseason. Can't play, can't win.
"Taking postseason play away is the sucker punch that the NCAA has to send a message that it's not acceptable. Suspending a coach or whatever is not effective in terms of going forward," Boyle told me at Coors Events Center. "I'm not talking about any program in particular. But there are programs that do it the right way and there are programs that operate in the gray area and there are programs that cheat.
"That's why we have compliance officers at every institution. That's why we have an NCAA enforcement staff. I think they do a good job. But there are a lot of moving targets out there when it comes to that."
Ever try to catch a snake?
They are slippery little devils.
"I know how we operate this program. I'm very proud of that," Boyle said. "I think when you see other programs that maybe live in the gray area, it is frustrating. But that's life."
The notion that Boeheim was dealt a rough hand when he was suspended for nine games (a penalty that actually aided their at-large chances, as the selection committee must have taken a coach's absence into account) and forced to vacate 108 wins (that nobody cares about, let's be real) is as laughable as the idea Syracuse's motivation is to graduate players.
One of the national semifinals Saturday is the NCAA's worst nightmare and a disturbing testament to a sport where it pays to cheat: One program on probation (Syracuse) vs. another program under investigation for academic fraud (North Carolina). At this rate, the CBS producers who splice together tournament highlights for "One Shining Moment" can substitute "Ridin' Dirty" and call it a day.
Get pumped, Buffs fans. CU's fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in five years also served as a preview of sweeter things to come. If the Buffs can replace Josh Scott's underappreciated leadership skills, I think Boyle can field the best team in school history in 2016-17. The roster is expected to include four fifth-year seniors, including Derrick White, a gifted transfer from UCCS, who has the scoring savvy to earn all-Pac-12 honors in his first and only season in Boulder.
"I think next year's team has all the ingredients to be pretty special," Boyle said.
This Final Four should be a blast for enthusiasts who appreciate diverse styles of play (the Carolina break vs. the Syracuse zone), coaches who get the most out of their rosters (Oklahoma mastermind Lon Kruger leads the pack) and the genuine class of shooting star Buddy Hield (can the Nuggets pair him alongside Emmanuel Mudiay, please?).
Then you have Syracuse — a program on probation for cheating — representing a healthy percentage of what's wrong with the sport. Anyone else feel queasy?