Boeheim Sticks To The Script In Tense Presser
Tuesday night’s game was just an undercard to one of the most intriguing press conferences I’ve ever seen from Jim Boeheim. We all know about the “overrated” rant, “the best team didn’t win tonight” from the heyday of the Georgetown rivalry, “you don’t know your business”, and other memorable pressers. But as much as we’ve come to expect the unexpected, last night was different in that we knew going in that the atmosphere would be tenser than usual.
Before we get to that, though, I feel obligated to touch on the game. There wasn’t much to take from SU’s blowout win over Eastern Michigan, which sits in the dark, damp, sub-300 territory of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. After a couple of close games, the Orange returned to lighter competition, but it was nice to see Rob Murphy back in the loud house and keep my mind off more important things, which is part of why I follow sports to begin with.
Once again, the Orange did a spectacular job on the offensive glass, rebounding half of their misses. Syracuse also shot well, especially from the three-point line and held onto the ball on its way to a 36-point laugher. While I like how James Southerland has improved, we’ve seen this movie before, and the limited chances he’s received against legitimate competition suggest he’s still on the outside looking in for a rotation spot. It’ll be nice to have him to fall back on if Kris Joseph’s knee starts acting up again or C.J. Fair has an off night, but I don’t expect him to get 19 minutes in the more important games of the season.
As for the main course of the evening, I think Boeheim did a good job handling the questions that mercilessly flew his way. From the moment he started speaking, you could tell that there were no fewer than 475,000 places he’d rather be, but considering the gravity of the situation and Boeheim’s reputation of walking, no matter how hot the coals get, I think he handled it well. There were definitely a few things worth discussing in greater detail here; not just about which angles were handled effectively, but also how his message and demeanor weren’t without flaws.
At first, Boeheim seemed rather uncomfortable as he read excerpts from the statement he gave Sunday night. It was crystal clear that there was a script to be followed, but as the conference progressed, it seemed like he gained more control and composure as he deviated slightly and opened up within the constraints put forth by the school’s legal and PR advisers. About halfway through, he somehow turned a question about the ovation he received before the game into a mini-soliloquy about his standing within the athletic department and lack of involvement with the school’s bigger decisions such as the flirtation and subsequent move to the ACC. This was never going to be a quick presser, but it became apparent that he was buying time for his players to get out of the locker room and head home without incident. It was a move that was more strategic than underhanded devoted to keeping his team focused in a pressure-packed environment, so some credit is due there.
Part of the deal of being a Syracuse fan is that you grow familiar with Boeheim’s style with the media simply as you follow the team. You get to see just how stubborn, passionate, and candid he is when he speaks with reporters when things aren’t so crazy. Tuesday night, it became clear that someone didn’t get that memo. Part of the intrigue of watching the press conference stemmed from the curiosity in deciphering who was familiar with his approach to handling the media and who wasn’t by how they persisted or grew flustered by his responses. There was a female journalist in particular who asked Boeheim about his job security, the team’s management of minors traveling with the team and, more specifically, the level of responsibility Boeheim has over minors when the team is on the road. He laughed off the final question before circling back around to it – interrupting another reporter to do so – but I couldn’t help but believe this specific journalist wasn’t getting the answers she wanted and that’s why she continued with such an aggressive tone. This is a hugely important story – there’s a reason it’s leading the national news networks – but while I respect that this woman, presumably a national reporter, has a job to do, I’m not sure that Boeheim would have been as patient with her were it a circumstance that didn’t call for such a special combination of candidness (in being willing to field questions) and restraint (in sticking to a gameplan that involved deflecting certain topics). She definitely didn’t sound like someone who had spent any time around Boeheim or was briefed about what she was in for when she was put on the beat.
That doesn’t mean I believe Boeheim was fully in the right from all angles of the presser or that anything he said Tuesday night should be taken as a weapon meant to vanquish anyone who dare questions his involvement in the allegations. Frankly, I’m still not fully convinced he completely understands the severity of the situation, even if he’s nothing more than the guy who happened to be Bernie Fine’s superior when the alleged abuse incidents took place. As Boeheim waved some prepared words in front of reporters and gave his classic smirk whenever a question too volatile to answer candidly was raised, it became tough for me not to get a little flustered myself. There’s a time and place to brandish the sarcasm and all the other hallmarks of a typical Boeheim presser. Last night did not fall into that category. Boeheim may be human, but I don’t think that gives him carte blanche to undermine the sensitive tone that has ensnared the campus over the last two weeks.
All in all, I think the SU head coach did a solid job. He kept his team distanced from the swarm of media with some of his comments, didn’t throw any gas on the fire and stuck to his script in a situation that demanded nothing less. While I understand that it’s a part of Boeheim’s identity and I typically enjoy it, I could have done without the smarmy demeanor for once. I don’t think it’ll come back to bite him as hard as some writers have already suggested, but we’ll just have to wait and see.