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Report: NCAA investigated Syracuse’s ties to local YMCA as part of inquiry

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ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 05: Fans stand next to a giant NCAA logo outside of the stadium on the practice day prior to the NCAA Men’s Final Four at the Georgia Dome on April 5, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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The NCAA finished up its investigation into Syracuse athletics in late October, and one part of that process is focused on an internship program that placed Syracuse athletes at a local YMCA and a former YMCA employee who had access to Syracuse men’s basketball players.

According to a report from Chris Carlson, Nate Mink and John O’Brien of, the NCAA looked into the YMCA in Oneida, NY as part of the investigation and are focusing on two particular people who had ties to Syracuse athletes while working there.

The internship program at the YMCA was part of a course required to graduate with a degree in Child and Family Studies, which was a popular major among athletes in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamic, according to the story. The NCAA’s interest occurred when 18 percent of Syracuse football players were enrolled in that major from 2004-05 and the internship program also had ties to the men’s basketball program.

Possible violations pertaining to the YMCA reportedly occurred years ago and include documentation of internship hours that athletes completed there as well as who was responsible for approving those hours.

This would help explain why Hank Leo, the CEO of the Tri-Valley YMCA in Oneida and a former Syracuse football tutor, was involved in the NCAA hearing for Syrause on Oct. 30-31 in Chicago.

The YMCA was not accused of wrongdoing by the NCAA, according to Leo’s lawyer, Robert Whitaker, but investigators questioned whether a second person with ties to the YMCA provided extra benefits to football and men’s basketball players.

That second person is former sports director of the Tri-Valley YMCA, Jeff Cornish. Cornish was an Oneida resident with no known ties to Syracuse other than his affiliation to the YMCA, but he was regularly around Syracuse basketball players.

Cornish once drove Carmelo Anthony to a speaking engagement and stopped by a neighbor’s house so Anthony could sign autographs, according to a 2003 report from the Oneida Daily Dispatch, and other former Orange basketball players like Terrence Roberts and Hakim Warrick attended a 2005 basketball tournament that Cornish was involved with. Another former player, Dayshawn Wright, claimed that he was paid $100 by Cornish to operate the scoreboard at the Oneida YMCA during a basketball tournament.

The story also reveals that the YMCA sued Cornish in 2008 in state Supreme Court, claiming that he diverted as much as $338,462 for his own benefit by setting up a bank account using the YMCA’s not-for-profit tax ID number without permission. The lawsuit accused Cornish of accounting fraud and unjust enrichment and was dropped eight months later as it was believed to be settled out of court.

It is unknown how or if the money was used, including Cornish’s involvement with Syracuse athletics. Syracuse’s athletic department severed ties with the YMCA around the time of the lawsuit, according to the report.

The university is still awaiting a report from the NCAA detailing the violations or if any occurred in the first place. If violations were committed, potential sanctions will also be something to monitor. Syracuse said previously in a statement that most of the issues in the investigation regarded men’s basketball and football and, “occurred years ago, with the exception of certain issues in basketball occurring between 2010 and early 2012.”

Many believe the potential violations between 2010 and 2012 are a matter of former center Fab Melo’s academic record.

While many will probably connect dots and jump to unfounded conclusions based on the report between Syracuse athletes and the YMCA, it’s tough to directly pinpoint wrongdoing on the part of Syracuse if it is unknown how the money from Cornish’s bank account was used.

Obviously this is a complicated investigation that stretches back longer than a decade, but we won’t know how the NCAA feels about those ties to Cornish or the YMCA until the full report is released.

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