Scandal seems to follow me. After graduating from St. Bonaventure in 1999, I covered the school's basketbal team for five years - including the infamous welding certificate scandal that was the biggest story of my career. After leaving Olean, I spent five years covering Binghamton University basketball - which exploded in scandal a month after I returned to grad school.
In May I earned a Masters' degree, and I'm currently a doctoral student at Syracuse University, which is in a bit of a mess.
One of the other schools I applied to for doctoral programs, one I seriously considered?
I feel compelled to write something about the ongoing Bernie Fine scandal at SU. But I can't shake the feeling that I'm the wrong person to do it. Being a graduate student at a school is far different than being an undergrad, at least from my perspective. Part of it is, no doubt, my situation. I live an hour away with my family, so I'm only on campus a few days a week.
But there's also a vast difference between grad school and undergrad. When you're an undergrad, your identity tends to be wrapped around your school. It's the first place you've lived on your own. You are at school, 24/7. Your life is wrapped in the cloak of the school, including its sports teams. Your school isn't some place you go for four years. In a lot of ways, it becomes a major part of your identity. It becomes who you are. (Sidenote: I have this idea that college sports fandom, and by extension media coverage, is fueled by nostalgia for the viewers' college experience.)
Grad school is different. It's more of a job. This has been especially true at the doctoral level. The grind of classes, projects, papers, conference deadlines, publication submissions and Foucault, dear God, Foucault, is what overtakes you. It's more about your own work and research than the school you're at. (It doesn't hurt that, at SU, the athletics offices are mainly on South Campus, a half mile from the main campus. Aside from the Carrier Dome, there are no visible signs of athletics on campus).
So when a scandal hits the school you did your undergrad at, it hits you harder. It cuts to a part of how you identify yourself, both to yourself and to the world at large. You endure jokes and snide comments from co-workers (to this day, I still get welding jokes). To see your school on the ticker on ESPN or CNN, to see reporters dig up unsavory facts about your school, to hear national pundits rip the school and its reputation, can be crushing. It makes you want to say "That's not us! We're not the scandal!"
And of course, that's true. Any university is a collage of many pieces. At Syracuse, at St. Bonaventure, at Penn State, at every school there's an athletics' scandal, there is world-class research being done, world-class teaching going on. Students' lives are being changed for the better. The work my doctoral colleagues are doing, the work of the faculty at SU, isn't materially diminished by what Bernie Fine allegedly did.
But perception is reality. This is the price we pay for having high-profile, big-time college sports. Fair or not, Jim Boeheim is the face of Syracuse University. If we want to cheer our football teams on Saturdays, if we want to watch our teams in the NCAA Tournament, then we have to know that if a scandal strikes our sports teams, that reflects on the school. You can't have it both ways.
As I said, I don't have much of an opinion on the scandal or its impact on the school.Whether or not Boeheim gets fired because of this will not make Foucault any easier to understand. To me, it's a fascinating story on a lot of levels, but not one that strikes a deep, emotional cord.
But it's still weird to see so many satellite trucks on campus.
There has been some exceptional journalism this past month, especially on the local level. The Harrisburg Patriot-News and the Syracuse Post-Standard have done wonderful work, and it's been wonderful to see the crime reporter of a central Pennsylvania daily become a media star. At a time when people foolishly claim journalism is dying, it's a welcome reminder that not all great journalism is done by the New York Times.
That being said, there are questions arising about the Post-Standard and ESPN's handling of the tape featuring Bernie Fine's wife and one of the accusers and why they didn't report it eight years ago. I'm not going to try to speculate as to why. But I hope the news outlets welcome the questions and give honest answers. It won't convince everyone - especially when the alleged crimes are this heinous. Reason (and so often, the 6th amendment) go out the window in cases like this, understandably so.
But it's what news outlets should do, especially in this new media age. Don't hide. Don't shrink or get defensive. Be open, be honest, welcome questions and skeptics.