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September 15, 2009

This "His Space" column by Bill Tanton appears in the September issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 300,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

An Imperfect 10: Debating Syracuse's 1990 Title

by Bill Tanton | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Syracuse's men's lacrosse teams celebrates its 11th national championship -- or 10th, depending on if you follow the university's or NCAA's interpretation of the 1990 title.

© Kevin P. Tucker

I’m disappointed in two of the most important organizations in lacrosse.

One of them is the NCAA, which governs college athletics. It’s not unusual for someone to complain about the NCAA. It’s unusual when anybody says something good about it.

The other disappointment is Syracuse University.

How can a lacrosse guy have a problem with Syracuse?

‘Cuse has the best lacrosse program in the country. It won the last two national championships. Plays up-and-down, crowd-pleasing lacrosse every year. Has more NCAA titles than anybody.
Hey, the team with a dome for a home owns 11 NCAA titles.

Or is it 10?

Some say 10.

Others insist it’s 11.

Confusing, huh?

Sure is.

See, Syracuse claims 11. That includes the 1990 title when it beat Loyola, 21-9, in the championship game.

But soon after that, the NCAA discovered a rules violation by Syracuse. The NCAA then “vacated” the ‘90 championship because the wife of coach Roy Simmons Jr. had co-signed an automobile loan for one of its Canadian players, Paul Gait.

Therefore, there is no such thing as an NCAA champion from 1990. In listing the champions through the years, the NCAA Web site today still says “1990 vacated.” It also says Syracuse has the most NCAA titles with 10. No mention of 11.

Syracuse has ignored that for 19 years.

It says it has 11 NCAA titles. It still claims that 1990 championship.


This stuff has been going on for too long.

I was at Rutgers in 1990, covering the NCAA championships. I saw Syracuse wallop North Carolina, 21-10, in the semifinal on Saturday. Immediately after that game the best coach Carolina coach ever had, Willie Scroggs, informed his team on the sideline that he was retiring. Syracuse’s ‘90 team must have made a lot of coaches feel like retiring.

Two days later, on Memorial Day, the Orange did a 21-9 number on Loyola in the championship game.

The terrible irony of all this is that Syracuse, that year, that weekend, was the best college lacrosse team I’ve ever seen. Remember who was on that team.

It had the incomparable Gait twins, midfielders Gary and Paul at their youthful best. Gary scored five goals in each of the team’s three playoff games that year.


Tom Marechek, a National Hall of Famer now like the Gaits, played attack. First-team All-American Pat McCabe was at defense. Matt Palumb (second-team AA) was in the goal.

Frankly, I thought at the time that vacating the title was too severe a penalty. Take away a scholarship or two. Impose some recruiting restrictions. That sort of thing would have been fine. But take away the national championship? Whoa!

Simmons told me then that the co-signing of the loan, which he only discovered “after the fact,” was labeled a secondary offense by the NCAA. Nancy Simmons, now deceased, merely co-signed for the loan so Paul Gait and his wife could get it, as Gait’s parents could not. Roy also said no school had ever before had a national championship taken away in any sport for a secondary offense.

When I asked him why the NCAA had vacated this one, his answer was classic Roy Simmons. He said, “Because Ced Dempsey (NCAA executive director) and Gene Corrigan (president) are cold and capricious dictators.”

Years later I asked Roy why Syracuse continued to claim a championship that doesn’t exist. “Because we won the championship game that year,” he explained.

That 1990 Syracuse team had the right to call itself a lot of things. It could have said Best in Country. Best in Show. Whatever. It could have said Best Ever and there’d have been no argument here.

But it does not have the right to call itself NCAA champion.

As soon as Syracuse beat Cornell, 10-9, in overtime in this year’s title game at Foxboro the Orange claimed 11 championships. The NCAA, of course, says it’s 10.

Who’s at fault, Syracuse or the NCAA?


It’s obstinate, arrogant and disrespectful for Syracuse to keep ignoring the NCAA’s 1990 ruling and claim a championship that is vacated. And the NCAA is wrong for allowing this to go on for almost two decades.

Come on, NCAA, man up! Make Syracuse stop claiming 11 championships. ‘Cuse is making you people look like chumps.

As for you Syracuse types, what’s so terrible about having “only” 10 NCAA championships? Get real, will you? Everybody knows you’re the best in the game, even with the measly 10 championships. Isn’t that good enough for you?

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