Tennessee, Virginia AGs Suing NCAA Over Legality of NIL Guidelines

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The state attorneys general in Tennessee and Virginia on Wednesday filed an antitrust lawsuit that challenges the NCAA and its ban on the use of name, image and likeness compensation in the recruitment of college athletes.

As reported by The Associated Press, the lawsuit against the NCAA is in response to the association’s investigation of the University of Tennessee.

The lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee seeks to undercut NCAA rules against recruiting inducements and claims the association is “enforcing rules that unfairly restrict how athletes can commercially use their name, image and likeness at a critical juncture in the recruiting calendar.”

“These anticompetitive restrictions violate the Sherman Act, harm the States and the welfare of their athletes, and should be declared unlawful and enjoined,” the lawsuit states, as reported by the AP.

Tennessee AG Jonathan Skrmetti and Virginia’s Jason Miyares followed up by asking the court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction by Feb. 6 that would prohibit the NCAA from enforcing NIL recruiting rules while the lawsuit plays out.

The NCAA released a statement that did not directly address the Tennessee investigation, but did defend enforcement of recruiting rules, which are made and agreed upon by member schools.

“This legal action would exacerbate what our members themselves have frequently described as a ‘wild west’ atmosphere, further tilting competitive imbalance among schools in neighboring states, and diminishing protections for student-athletes from potential exploitation,” the NCAA said. “The NCAA remains firmly committed to protecting and expanding student-athletes’ NIL rights and opportunities. However, our membership has steadfastly supported the prohibition on impermissible recruiting contacts, booster involvement in recruiting prospects and the use of NIL offers as recruiting inducements.”

This latest legal action targeting the NCAA came a day after University of Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman criticized the association for investigating the school for potential recruiting violations related to NIL deals struck between athletes and an organization that is funded and run by boosters and that provides Volunteers athletes a chance to cash in on their fame.

On Tuesday, it was revealed the NCAA was investigating Tennessee and The Vol Club, an NIL collective run by Spyre Sports Group. Tennessee’s recruitment of five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava from California and  his NIL contract with Spyre is among the deals receiving scrutiny from the NCAA.

“Two and a half years of vague and contradictory NCAA memos, emails and ‘guidance’ about name, image and likeness (NIL) has created extraordinary chaos that student-athletes and institutions are struggling to navigate,” Plowman wrote, as reported by the AP. “In short, the NCAA is failing.”

NCAA president Charlie Baker and college sports leaders have been pleading for federal lawmakers to regulate NIL compensation and provide an antitrust exemption that would allow the association to govern without constantly being dragged into the court.

Earlier this month, the NCAA approved a set of NIL regulations aimed at creating transparency in the market for athletes and protecting them from potential bad actors.

Meanwhile, Baker also is pushing for rule changes that would allow schools to bring NIL activities in-house and even allow some schools to directly pay their athletes through trust funds.

Tennessee athletic director Danny White shared the state attorney general’s post of the lawsuit on social media within 20 minutes, writing that he appreciated Skrmetti standing up for the rights of athletes.

“At Tennessee, we are always going to work to support our student-athletes’ rights and give them all the tools needed to succeed on and off the field,” White posted. “This is what strong leadership looks like!”

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