NCAA investigators spent at least two days in Coral Gables to inquire about the University of Miami's name, image and likeness transactions in the first indication by the governing body that it is taking at least the monitoring of NIL deals seriously.
Multiple sources told Sports Illustrated that the visits took place last week and included interviews with billionaire UM booster John Ruiz. Contacted Tuesday morning, Ruiz confirmed that he spoke to NCAA enforcement staff members last week in what he termed a general “interview.”
“I’m extremely comfortable with what we are doing. I have nothing to hide,” Ruiz told SI. “It went super well. The NCAA is trying to wrap their hands around this sudden change of environment. They’re trying to figure out how the landscape is working.”
NCAA staff members interviewed others in Miami, as well, in what is believed to be the first serious inquiry into a college athletic department since the association lifted rules last July that once prohibited athletes to earn compensation from their likeness.
Though he declined to reveal specifics, Ruiz’s time in front of NCAA investigators is believed to have at least centered on his NIL deal with men’s basketball guard Nijel Pack, a Kansas State transfer who signed a two-year, $800,000 to endorse Ruiz’s two companies, LifeWallet, a healthcare application, and the Cigarette (boat) Racing Team.
He is one of 115 athletes that Ruiz has signed to deals since the inception of NIL, and while he acknowledges that most of them attend Miami, he’s struck deals with players from North Carolina and FIU, he says. Ruiz, whose three children attended Miami, says his NIL payroll is currently at about $7 million.
He describes the NCAA’s visit to Miami as not an “investigation” but more of an inquiry to learn more about the evolving landscape of NIL, according to SI.
“A lot of NCAA bylaws are hard to reconcile with the ability and right to enter into NIL deals,” he says. “I think that the NCAA is starting to get a handle on the fact that it’s not capable of navigating within the [state] NIL laws and their own bylaws. There is an internal conflict.
“I felt the people from the NCAA were extremely pleasant. They are tasked with the job of making sure they gather enough information and create a functioning standard for everybody. There has to be better regulation.”
A Miami spokesperson provided SI with a statement: “Like our peer institutions around the country, the University of Miami communicates with NCAA staff to ensure compliance with applicable NCAA regulations. Per NCAA rules, and in order to maintain the integrity of the review, the university cannot comment on specifics of the matter.”
"The NCAA visit to Miami isn’t necessarily a surprise, but does signal that the organization’s enforcement staff is seriously pursuing potential violations of its NIL guidelines, which specifically prohibit using NIL as recruiting inducements," writes Ross Dellenger of SI. "In a letter to member schools last week, NCAA enforcement chief John Duncan reassured members that the association plans to launch inquiries and that it is 'not focused' on the eligibility of athletes, signaling that penalties for violations would instead fall on the school and boosters, who could be disassociated from their universities. Duncan’s letter followed a clarification of NIL guidelines released earlier this spring, partly a result of outspoken and frustrated athletic administrators over the state of NIL.
"Within a few short months, an NIL era that began last July with mega deals mostly reserved for the nation’s top athletes and social media stars has evolved into a rapidly escalating bidding war for elite football and men’s basketball players. At many high profile Power 5 schools, a single booster or a group of them — collectives — have pooled funds to create player salary pools to bankroll entire teams."
Some of them are doling out $50K or more to each athlete in deals masked as NIL, administrators told SI.
Ruiz thrust himself and the Hurricanes into the limelight with his sometimes brazen posts on Twitter to announce Pack’s commitment to Miami, as well as the player’s NIL deal with his companies. The tweet almost immediately drew five million impressions, something Ruiz uses to point to as an early return on his investment.
In an interview in April with SI, Ruiz shrugs.
“We feel our platform is the only one in the country that truly would be resilient to any attack by the NCAA,” Ruiz told SI in April. “A majority of people don’t understand the law. Their first reaction is, if it’s not my team, it’s no good! The reality is there is a quid pro quo.”
Whether the NCAA can legally hand down sanctions connected to NIL is a matter of debate, according to SI. Given the NCAA's Supreme Court loss last summer and the superseding state NIL laws, the organization is somewhat handcuffed to enforce its own guidelines, risking a fruitless challenge to state laws and legal challenges from wealthy boosters. In many cases, boosters and collectives who have documented proof of an NIL transaction with an athlete — a quid pro quo — seem to be in the clear, many legal experts say.
"According to NCAA bylaws and in many state laws, boosters are prohibited from inducing prospects through NIL," Dellenger writes. "And while officials say that many NIL deals being struck across the country are fairly obvious inducements, savvy donors and collective CEOs are crafty in writing contracts. They don’t bind an athlete to a specific school, are agreed upon after the athlete commits or signs and involve a quid pro quo."
“It might look like an inducement and smell like an inducement, but it’s tough to prove it’s an inducement,” says one Power 5 athletic director.
“I don’t see how they will enforce it,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told SI last month.