“Do you think people are upset about our program?” (video)

“Do you think people are upset about our program?”  (video)
“Do you think people are upset about our program?”  (video)

Syracuse, NY — Jim Boeheim is hearing the increasing volume of criticism being hurled at the Syracuse men’s basketball program that he spent nearly five decades building.

He questions how much the list of critics is actually growing. And he wonders how much their opinions actually matter anyway.

Despite a 72-63 win over Wake Forest on Saturday night, the Orange are on the verge of missing both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT Tournament in back-to-back games for the first time since Boeheim took over the program in 1976.

The four-game skid the program experienced heading into the season finale against Wake Forest was among the worst four-game stretches in program history, with all four losses by at least 17 points. Syracuse has only had a similar stretch of consecutive blowout losses in program history. It came in 1960.

Recent games, and the fact that Boeheim is the oldest coach in college basketball history, have fueled calls for the 78-year-old to step aside and prompted him to hold up an impressive Saturday attendance as his preferred barometer of fan satisfaction .

He says he still has good support.

On the afternoon that Syracuse celebrated the 20th anniversary of its only NCAA men’s basketball championship and honored two of its best players by hanging their jerseys from the rafters, the Orange announced a crowd of 24,590 fans for a game against the Demon Deacons.

Boeheim said those in attendance are the fans whose votes matter, not the ones who call into sports talk radio shows and call for a leadership change.

“The fans here are not the ones calling the radio show,” Boeheim said, unprompted. “Not one fan that was here tonight is calling any radio show. Those calling the radio shows are not coming to games. They don’t have season tickets. The only way they’re going is if somebody gives them a ticket. This reflects what our fans think about the show ours.

“There are 24,500 people here and you think people are upset about our program. Yes. They are upset. Those who sit at home and call are the ones who are bored. Do I want to do better? Yes. We want to do better. But those who show up tell you whether you have support or not.”

The school honored the 2003 national championship during a halftime ceremony, then honored Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick during a postgame ceremony, allowing time for each to make a personal speech.

Despite Syracuse fans’ penchant for making a quick exit to try to beat traffic, very few left their seats, a show of appreciation for the two SU legends and, Boeheim believes, a display of the quality of the fan base the program has built.

“Not one fan left the building,” Boeheim said. “They stayed until the end.”

Boeheim minimized the program’s attendance drop this season. Syracuse regularly leads the nation in attendance, numbers that are bolstered by the fact that the JMA Wireless Dome can hold more fans than any college basketball arena in the country.

This year, Syracuse has finished third.

Big attendance numbers are as much a part of Boeheim’s career legacy as his wins, generating millions of dollars for the university, more than almost any other school in the country, and energy around the program.

When he took over the program in 1976, Syracuse played before enthusiastic crowds in the cramped quarters of Manley Field House. That energy has moved to the Dome where Orange is still pulling significant – albeit shrinking – numbers.

“We’re only third in the country in attendance, which is a shame,” Boeheim said sarcastically. “When we moved into the Dome, I was definitely not in favor. I think everybody in Syracuse was thinking, ‘How is this going to work?’ I said I think we could get 15,000. In the 30-plus years we’ve been here, we averaged over 22,000 a year. To me, that’s the biggest surprise in college athletics, that we’ve been able to do it without parking, tough winters, hard to get here.”

Boeheim’s defense of the state of the program also echoed earlier rationales for the team’s poor record this year, with the head coach saying the team performed fairly well for much of the season but lacked the firepower to close out close losses to older teams that would have painted a happier picture.

The solution, Boeheim believes, is to make more transfers, something he says the Orange didn’t do this season because they had a six-player freshman class. He said he now recognizes that transfers must be part of any future plan.

“We lost five games to teams that brought in three or four players, veteran players,” Boeheim said, citing Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Virginia.

“We went 0-5 against those guys. Before the transition portal, I think we beat those teams. That is the reality today. Looking ahead, you have to see who is coming back and you have to be in the transfer portal to succeed. … I think everyone sees it now.”

Syracuse.com will debut a documentary film about Syracuse basketball’s 2003 NCAA championship team on March 29 at the Landmark Theatre. Tickets are on sale now. For more information, click here.


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