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Tennessee attorney general sues NCAA over unfair NIL deals

The suit claims the NCAA is violating antitrust laws over regulations concerning name, image and likeness deals.
Tennessee attorney general sues NCAA over unfair NIL deals
Posted at 10:32 AM, Feb 01, 2024

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning against the NCAA, claiming the sports governing body is violating antitrust laws over regulations concerning NIL deals.

NIL stands for name, image and likeness. For decades, college athletes could only be paid in scholarships and cheers from the crowd. Now, players can sign lucrative NIL deals with companies and other groups to compensate them for their notoriety. 

But, the implementation of the NIL program has been far from perfect. 

"What the NCCA is doing by restricting the negotiating ability of these students is illegal," said Skrmetti in an interview with Scripps News Nashville. "There's a really strong case that we've got that these violate federal antitrust laws."

Right now, athletes have to commit to a school before they can negotiate an NIL deal. Skrmetti thinks that's wrong. 

"All they can do then is say I would like this much. It's not really a negotiation. There's not a market that is going to set the highest value possible," he said.

Filing the lawsuit created a rare moment on Tennessee's Capitol Hill — everyone seemed to agree with it.

"I'm thankful that the attorney general stepped in to help our student-athletes," said Rep. Jason Zachary, a Republican from Knox County.

"Yeah, I think it's a smart move by the attorney general. We agree on this one," said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat from Nashville.

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These latest moves began, in part, because of a letter filed by University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman on Monday. The Vols could be facing another NCAA investigation, this time over NIL deals. 

A few years back, UT Athletics faced multiple allegations against the coaching staff of then-head coach Jeremy Pruitt. The Vols cooperated fully and worked to clean house after the allegations were brought forward.

On the NIL allegations, Chancellor Plowman fired back, calling them "factually untrue and procedurally flawed," in her letter to the NCAA. 

"I don't think the Chancellor, having been through all that, would get out over her skis and rally such a big defense if she didn't know the ground she was standing on was solid," said Skrmetti.

Skrmetti said he supports UT's fight, but claims these allegations are not the only reason they took up the lawsuit. 

"We've been looking at this issue for a little while," he said

It's not certain what a victory in the case would look like, but this is another situation where Tennessee lawmakers appear to be in lockstep. 

Both Rep. Zachary and Rep. Clemmons predict it could spell the end for the NCAA. 

"I think this might be the beginning of the end for the NCAA," said Zachary.

"The NCAA has outlived its relevancy by about 40 years," said Clemmons.

If that doesn't happen, they hope federal lawmakers will step up and pass clear and consistent rules that supersede individual state NIL deals. 

"It's time for Congress to step in and say, 'OK, we need to step in and establish some parameters," said Rep. Zachary.

The NCAA responded on Wednesday, writing, "While the NCAA generally does not comment on specific infractions cases, it is important to remember that NCAA member schools and conferences not only make the rules but routinely call for greater enforcement of those rules and holding violators accountable." 

The statement said, "In recent years, this has been especially true as it relates to establishing and enforcing a consistent set of national rules intended to manage the name, image and likeness environment. 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 association touched on efforts to better its recruitment, writing, "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 story was originally published by Chris Davis at Scripps News Nashville

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