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Does Syracuse Have An NIL Problem?

Credit Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports

In the whirlwind world of college athletics, Syracuse sports teams have remained somewhat immune from the fast-changing, parity-heavy pace that has defined NCAA athletics during the 21st century. The school’s three ‘revenue’ sports Рfootball, men’s basketball, and men’s lacrosse Рhave all played in the same building since 1980. Syracuse men’s basketball has had the same coach since 1976, and men’s lacrosse has had five coaches total since the program started playing in 1916. A lot of things on The Hill don’t seem to change all that often.

For that reason, the seemingly unpluggable geyser of NIL-related hand-wringing that has defined college athletics for the good part of a year has made SU look slow on the draw, to be kind. To an outside observer, that very lack of change is now hurting Syracuse. It might be tempting to look at what some other schools are doing around the nation and look frantically towards athletic director John Wildhack to keep pace with, say, a quarterback with one full season under his belt suddenly securing a BMW through his agent.

Doing so would be unproductive, because it’s completely out of Wildhack’s hands. All he can do is try and advertise his programs.

As questionable as Syracuse’s approach has been, it’s not reason to panic. SU is taking a legal approach and simply playing the hand they’ve been dealt. There are disadvantages, to be sure Рbut the sky isn’t falling. We touched on this topic in this week’s Fizz Five, but it’s probably wise to do a deeper dive.

A few weeks ago, Syracuse hosted a slew of local businesses inside the Dome to lay out what is and isn’t legal through recently acquired NIL rights for players. Those local businesses are going to be definite players for SU athletes, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s easy to get distracted by the flashy deals like the one signed by Boston College’s Zay Flowers, but for every similar instance, there’s a smaller-time Doug Edert Buffalo Wild Wings deal. SU’s Sean Tucker has a similarly mild partnership with Destiny Mall’s 110 Grill.

As easy as it is to chuckle about the lack of eye-popping opportunities hauled in by SU athletes, more lucrative and attention-grabbing deals may be on the way. SU does not currently have an “NIL collective”, or simply a group of fans who have pooled money together to maximize how much money their favorite athlete or school can get through a deal. ‘Cuse’s ACC rivals such as Virginia Tech and Notre Dame already have them, but SU does not. John Wildhack said he expects there to be at least one by the Fall, but here’s the kicker: the school can’t dictate when it happens or not. Collectives are independent from Syracuse’s athletic department. If they weren’t, they’d break NCAA rules.

If all the new terminology and rules are making your head spin, you‚Äôre not alone. Jim Boeheim recently voiced his thoughts on NIL as it pertains to recruiting and struck a frustrated tone. 

“There’s football players we’ve already seen getting a million dollars. There’s basketball players we’ve seen get a million dollars. That’s not NIL. That’s somebody paying somebody to come to their school.” (Jim Boeheim to CuseSportsTalk.com, 5/4/22)

Boeheim has surely seen and done it all on the recruiting trail in 47 years. To have something come in and essentially pull the rug out from underneath his tried-and-true pitches (quality education, borderline blue-blood program, potential NBA exposure) is probably a jagged pill to swallow. Legally, Boeheim cannot use NIL offers as a tool to recruit, and said he still doesn’t quite know how to answer NIL questions when asked by recruits or their agents. To some recruits, none of Syracuse’s other draws matter in the slightest if they can’t come in and make as much money as they would at Duke or UNC.

For such unequal footing around the nation, point the finger at the NCAA instead of individuals like Wildhack or Boeheim. After 2014’s O’Bannon v. NCAA Supreme Court ruling, the writing was on the wall that players would eventually gain NIL rights. Instead of implementing thought-out guidelines and ensuring a smooth process, the NCAA spent nearly a decade sprinting away from the players’ rights kaiju and throwing millions at court fights in its wake. Those fights failed, and now the NCAA is frozen at the wheel as the NIL era increasingly takes on a Wild West flavor with each passing day.

Ultimately, Syracuse does not have a pressing NIL problem at the moment. The legislation is so new at this point that SU is far from the only school trying to find its comfort zone. Wildhack and company have so far strayed away from anything questionable or deemed “technically legal”. For the time being, that’ll do. If Syracuse collective groups appear in the Fall and begin to rev up advantageous and legal chances for ‘Cuse athletes, it could be a boon Рand perhaps a badly needed one for a few programs that have struggled for years on the recruiting trail.

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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