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SU official: 'cultural change' underway in handling of student athletes

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Syracuse University men's basketball coach Jim Boeheim, center.

  Top Syracuse University officials that work with student athletes say the culture that allowed for its top sports programs to violate NCAA rules over the span of a decade is no more.

The university says it took a number of steps to ensure better compliance with NCAA rules before the college sports governing body handed down the results of its investigation. That includes hiring Tony Powell to be assistant provost for student athlete development. He works closely with Rick Burton, who was named academic athletics representative last year.

"We believe we’re part of, not holistically, but part of a cultural change," Burton said in a a joint interview with WRVO.

It’s been a week since the NCAA unleashed the punishment on Syracuse University for rule violations within the school’s basketball and to a lesser extent football programs. The misconduct includes academic fraud, failing to follow a drug use policy and a university "booster" paying athletes for work and appearances at a YMCA.

The university has fired some athletic staff members involved in the writing of an academic paper on behalf of a student in 2012.

(Read Syracuse University's full response to the NCAA's investigation.)

It also created more separation between athletics and academics, including creating Powell’s position. Powell says to him, the rules on what’s considered cheating and too much help for student athletes is black and white.

"I don’t live in the grey. It’s the student athletes’ work and that’s it," he said.

Burton says speculation about the past isn’t worthwhile. He says he knows rule breaking within college athletics happens, and he gets the impression from the NCAA that that’s expected.

"When something does happen, you have an obligation then to say, ‘why? What have we done since, and what are we doing going forward into the future that this will never happen on my watch, or his watch, or our watch?'" Burton said.

The NCAA charges basketball coach Jim Boeheimfailed to cultivate an atmosphere of compliance within his program. It stripped Boeheim of about 100 wins and suspended him nine conference games. The NCAA has also reduced the number of scholarships within the basketball program and imposed fines.

The college says it doesn’t agree and may appeal.

Powell says he meets with Boeheim weekly and the coach takes academics seriously. "He takes a vested interest," Powell said. "And he’s a tremendous person to work with when it comes to supporting the student athletes." 

Chancellor Kent Syverud will meet with administrators Monday and the board of trustees will discuss the investigation Tuesday. S.U. says the punishment from the NCAA is for infractions prior to 2012 and it says there have been no rules broken since.

"We think that we're getting it right," Burton said. "Does it eliminate absolutely the possibility of something going wrong? Never, you can't say that."