Even those of you distracted by Syracuse’s confounding quarterback controversy couldn’t have missed what befell the Orange a little over a week ago. 4-star forward prospect Kamari Lands, perhaps the crowning jewel of Jim Boeheim’s 2022 recruiting class, decommitted from Syracuse after a four-month marriage. Now the entire structure of the class – filled with highly-touted guys who all worked together to recruit each other to SU – is teetering on its axis. C’est la vie.
Should Syracuse fans really be surprised by this? Not really. After the Darius Bazley spurning in 2018 and Dior Johnson welching last year, SU fans have been thrice smited down by high-profile recruits leaving them at the altar over the past four calendar years. As a fanbase, we’re now just one 4-star limb decapitation away from becoming the Black Knight from Monty Python. ‘Tis but a scratch!
On a more serious note, Lands’ decision should come as a warning sign not just for Syracuse, but for the entire NCAA. The Indianapolis native explicitly described his change of heart as entirely NIL motivated. It’s foolish to believe that Name-Image-Likeness rules are going to ruin college athletics, but it’d be even more so to think a new batch of rules would get passed without some growing pains. When the history of NIL is written, it might be hard to do so without mentioning what happened here between Lands and Syracuse. We have yet to understand the full ripple effect.
That being said, Syracuse isn’t a barren wasteland devoid of money-making opportunities. Buddy Boeheim and defensive lineman Josh Black are two big SU names who didn’t hesitate to cash in. What Lands saw clearly wasn’t to his liking. However, an offer from Kansas just a day after his decommitment seemed to whet his appetite, at least on the surface.
The challenges that face Syracuse now are these: work around the less-marketable parts of your current framework, and figure out how to walk the tightrope of “NIL recruiting”.
The first part is straightforward. The quiet part nobody seems to want to say out loud is that Syracuse has some disadvantages when it comes to recruiting. Through negatively-tinted glasses, Syracuse is cold as all get out, somewhat geographically isolated, and the team plays an antiquated zone defense under the roof of a 41-year old dome. Unless you’re fully bought in and know you want to be here, that’s a tough sell. The challenge is to play up the good parts enough: hall of fame coach, rabid fanbase, consistent tournament opportunities, etcetera.
The second, more challenging part for Jim Boeheim, Gerry McNamara and company is to figure out (like all other college coaches) how to implement NIL into their recruiting without explicitly offering recruits money or chances. That’s still illegal under what the NCAA called “improper inducements”.
The most Boeheim’s staff can do is to assure that NIL opportunities exist in Syracuse. For high school kids around the country who may not know where Syracuse even is, it could take some convincing. However, that’s a new main key for retaining recruits with NIL in play. Show them they can succeed and potentially be the marketable face of the team if they earn it. There’s infrastructure in place. Now it’s time to see it in action, lest we go through another dozen episodes of offseason decommitment theater.