Syracuse Basketball: A $4 million NIL war chest to win big in portal, prep recruiting

Collective Orange United is targeting millions of NIL dollars for Syracuse basketball next season. Will it be enough?
Collective Orange United is targeting millions of NIL dollars for Syracuse basketball next season. Will it be enough? / Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Given the transfer portal's explosion - and somewhat absurdity - Syracuse basketball and its peers in the Atlantic Coast Conference and around the country are experiencing significant roster shake-ups now and will continue to witness this trend in the future.

What's further fueling the portal landscape is name, image and likeness opportunities that are likely creating bidding wars among college basketball programs for transfers, and to a lesser degree, potentially at the high school level.

Top-flight transfers are commanding significant NIL dollars, according to recent media reports and comments from experts. By extension, it does appear that the biggest portion of a particular team's NIL budget in collegiate hoops will end up going to the transfer market, as opposed to existing roster players or high school recruits.

While I'm cautiously optimistic that Syracuse basketball - supported by commercial NIL collective Orange United - can be relatively on par with other brand-name programs in the sport, for the 'Cuse to win big in the transfer portal (and at the prep level), a recent report suggests a massive war chest could be needed.

Syracuse basketball must have millions of NIL dollars to compete at a high level in the portal.

I found a recent article by On3 college sports business and transfer portal reporter Pete Nakos, who is one of the best in the business, to be eye-opening.

At the onset, Nakos writes that NIL budgets for college basketball programs "range from $1 to $4 million. Deals pushing half a million to seven figures are much more frequent in basketball, unlike football."

According to the On3 expert, within the portal, the "most valuable" positions are likely power forwards and centers, and the top big-men transfers can command $1 million deals. Top guards, Nakos says, can generate "roughly half a million a year."

A couple of days ago, the college basketball world was put into a frenzy when ace recruiter John Calipari left Kentucky to be the head coach at fellow Southeastern Conference school Arkansas.

Nakos noted in his story that Calipari could have upwards of $5 million to $6 million in annual NIL funds at his disposal to utilize, and that's just an insane amount of money in my humble opinion.

Now, for some context, the typical college basketball program won't boast that kind of NIL dollars. But still, to think that a team like Syracuse basketball may need to up the ante even further to compete for elite transfers and high school recruits is a little mind-boggling to me.

This off-season, as the Orange has seen at least six players from its 2023-24 roster hit the portal, a lot of my fellow 'Cuse fans have chimed in on social media and in chat rooms that the sport of college basketball is getting out of control, with the two main factors being the transfer portal and NIL.

I get it. Times are definitely changing. Money talks. Syracuse basketball did, not too long ago, secure a commitment from a four-star transfer center, and the Orange coaching staff was also hosting two additional four-star transfers on visits this weekend.

Last month, I spoke by phone with Mark Hayes, who is Orange United's general manager. For the 2024-25 season, his commercial collective is aiming for an NIL budget of $2 million to $2.5 million for Syracuse basketball, and that's a solid target.

However, if programs in power conferences - whether from the ACC, the SEC, the Big Ten, the Big 12 or the Big East, for example - will have $3 million, $4 million, $5 million or even $6 million in annual NIL funds to work with, will the 'Cuse moving forward be able to lure top-flight transfers and high school prospects to the Hill?

That remains to be seen. I'm all for college players being able to transfer once while retaining immediate eligibility, and I'm also totally fine with collegiate student-athletes being able to earn endorsement income stemming from their names, images and likenesses.

But the sheer dollar amounts, per these various reports, are getting pretty out of hand. When is enough, enough?

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