Syracuse Tried Really Hard To Keep Fab Melo Eligible

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

As fallout continues from the NCAA's announcement of sanctions for Syracuse, most of the fun now is in delving into the full report and pulling out the most egregious violations. Athletics staffers posing as players to email with professors was good. So is the athletics department running a full-court press to desperately preserve the eligibility of one of its best players.

The quest to keep Brazilian sophomore center Fab Melo on the court is broken down by the Syracuse Post-Standard. While the NCAA report doesn't name players, Melo's involvement is clear from the timing—he would ultimately miss the 2012 NCAA Tournament due to academic ineligibility, but not for a lack of trying.

[A]thletic director Daryl Gross called a meeting with at least seven other members of the Syracuse athletic department, the NCAA reported. It was an effort to brainstorm how to keep Melo in uniform. And to keep the Orange's national championship hopes alive.

"As the institution acknowledged at the hearing, a meeting like this, aimed at an individual student-athlete's eligibility options, had previously never occurred at the institution," the report said.

The Brazilian center "needed basketball," Gross said, according to the report.

Without it, Melo would have been on a plane home "the next day," Boeheim said in the report.

Boeheim wanted "the best defensive player in the country to play" but hoped Melo's return would be within the rules, the report said.


The group came up with the idea of having Melo obtain a grade change in a class he'd taken a year earlier. The professor agreed to let Melo submit a paper to raise his past grade, so two staffers—director of basketball operations Stan Kissel and basketball receptionist Debora Belanger—set out to write that paper for him.

Starting at 11:19 a.m. the paper, which was based heavily on Melo's personal statement to the NCAA that had been saved on Kissel's computer, was revised seven times in 27 hours. Each of the revisions was made by either Kissel or [Belanger].

The pair exchanged seven e-mails and three phone calls during that time.

By the next morning, Melo had turned in four or five pages The professor ruled it "inadequate" because it did not include citations. Those changes were made by the afternoon.


The professor agreed to raise Melo's course grade from a C- to a B-. But athletics staffers were facing a time crunch—the next basketball game was in a couple of days, and if the grade change wasn't put through before then, Melo wouldn't be able to play.

Here's how the NCAA report describes the hurry:

Word circulated and eventually multiple athletics and academic personnel involved themselves in ensuring that the grade change occurred as soon as possible and before institutional offices closed for the weekend. With time of the essence, the director of compliance, the director of student-athlete support services and the deputy director of athletics, as well as the professor, went to the registrar's office to ensure that the grade change form was processed "appropriately." The form, however, did not have the required signatures, and they were not able to secure those signatures before offices closed for the weekend. [Melo] did not play in the game the following day. Over the weekend, the director of compliance emailed the executive vice president/chief financial officer of the institution informing him that the institution's vice chancellor and provost would be "very disappointed" if the request were not approved. She also noted that the vice chancellor and provost wanted the institution to engage in a discussion with the NCAA prior to student-athlete 7 playing in the upcoming game.


Melo was finally declared eligible again, but not before missing one game. That's what probably did them in: the weirdness of a player going from eligible to ineligible back to eligible in the span of a couple of days caught the NCAA's attention, and an investigation quickly turned up evidence that Melo's paper had been written for him. Melo was then given a failing grade on the paper, and lost his eligibility.

Melo would jump to the NBA that spring; college wasn't for him. After all, as he told scouts who wanted to know why he had faced academic problems, he had just recently learned English.