The most visible donor to Syracuse athletics has been Adam Weitsman. When he decided this week to leave the NIL world it left many SU fans in a state of panic. He clearly has deep pockets, loves SU sports, and was willing to spend plenty of it. It’s not cheap to buy Tom Brady for an afternoon. But Weitsman never seemed to be fully embraced by Syracuse University. Why has Syracuse pushed away Weitsman?
Weitsman clearly enjoyed the attention that came with his actions. Flying celebrities into town with cameras capturing the meeting on the tarmac, to then sit alongside them at the Dome could be construed as “clout chasing,” as the kids might say. Weitsman framed it as a way to bring attention to the university and region as a whole. But clearly when you’re sitting courtside next to Tom Brady and Jimmy Fallon, you’ve pinned the spotlight on yourself as well.
The list has been long. Gronk, Pete Davidson, Carmelo, Dion Waiters, Odell, Giannis, and Iverson have made it to the Dome through Weitsman’s wallet. These are specifically targeted celebrities to drive the most attention. And does that attention help SU win games? Maybe in a roundabout way. It seems mostly for Weitsman to be in the spotlight too.
Could you suggest that the more attention on SU, the more donor money may come in, and more players might be attracted to commit? Perhaps. But how likely does it seem that Judah Mintz sees Gronk at the Dome and thinks, “That’s where I need to play basketball.” How likely does it seem that a millionaire alum on the Upper East Side of Manhattan sees a video of Allen Iverson at SU and calls in a donation?
Ultimately, there was nothing wrong with flying in celebrities to watch SU, no matter how random it sometimes felt. The Wall Street Journal has titled him a billionaire. There aren’t many of those floating around Central New York and watching Syracuse-Wake Forest courtside. (Although there are more than we realize. As of 2020, there were 664 American billionaires). So why would Chancellor Kent Syverud allow Weitsman to feel neglected and unwanted?
Weitsman’s NIL lawyer Darren Heitner believes Syracuse may have pushed away Weitsman by being overly careful about not committing any NCAA violations. He told Inside the Loud House, “Syracuse is so petrified of the NCAA, going above and beyond what is necessary to abide by the rules.” It’s hard to blame them. SU has been punished by the NCAA in some very visible cases, having lacrosse championships vacated and Jim Boeheim’s wins voided. It may also emanate from Weitsman’s stint in jail. In 2004 he spent time in prison for check fraud. He pleaded guilty to 86 felony counts of bank fraud and was sentenced to a year and a day in Otisville federal prison. He served eight months.
To his credit, he doesn’t run from it. “I had started the shredding company,” he said last year. “I didn’t really know what I was doing too well. The plant wouldn’t run, so there was a period of time, it’s called check kiting. It’s transferring funds back and forth, which is a felony, of course. I deserved to go to jail.”
But he knows that reputation follows him nearly twenty years later. He’s committed to making sure he gives back to the community, and has been the source of big donations philanthropically. “I didn’t want the legacy for me to be some ex-con father. I’m working hard to do things for the community that reached out a hand, helped me back up,” he said.
Is it possible Syverud and Syracuse pushed away Weitsman because they just can’t shake that reputation as an ex-con? Perhaps the Board of Trustees is uncomfortable with the association? Maybe the school is worried that Weitsman’s very visible celebrity, with a knack for splashy tabloid fodder (he bought a $23M house he saw on Instagram), would cause extra scrutiny in NIL deals from the NCAA. It should be noted the NIL world feels very lawless right now anyway. It’s likely some combination of these effects. If you’re looking for a silver lining, Mike Waters writes that there’s other powerful collectives at SU ready to step in to the leadership role.
In the world of college athletics, it’s never smart to turn down faucets of NIL money, especially at SU. But there’s likely a perception problem with Weitsman which has caused the Chancellor to end the relationship. SU fans now need to hope there’s another channel for the financial support to come from.