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Federal Judge Rules Against NCAA In NIL Enforcement Lawsuit

Nico Iamaleava - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NCAA College Football, QB Prospects

A federal judge in Tennessee issued a temporary injunction on Friday that will suspend the NCAA from punishing student-athletes, universities, and boosters for negotiating or signing name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals.

While the temporary injunction issued by Judge Clifton L. Corker is not the final ruling in the case, it is effective immediately and will apply to all athletes in every state. The order is expected to significantly alter the NCAA's ability to police - or punish - NIL activity between athletes and their prospective schools or the school's athletic boosters.

The NCAA's rules prohibit athletes from signing NIL deals that are designed to entice them to attend a particular school during their collegiate recruitment or while they are in the transfer portal, though the attorneys general from Tennessee and Virginia filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on January 31, 2024, arguing that the rule illegally restricted opportunities for athletes. That lawsuit led to today's temporary federal injunction in a court case that's expected to continue to chip away at the NCAA's once unbreakable hold on college sports.

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What Is NIL?

NIL is the commonly used acronym for the "name, image, and likeness" rights of collegiate athletes. Throughout the history of collegiate athletics, the NCAA has served as a governing body for the rules surrounding universities and their student-athletes.

Those rules had always prohibited college athletes from profiting or benefiting financially outside of their school-funded scholarships. However, the landscape of college athletics changed dramatically on July 21, 2021, when the new NIL policy went into effect that allowed student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness.

This groundbreaking shift in the rules of collegiate athletics opened a new, uncharted territory for athletic programs and their student-athletes. According to NCAA rules, "pay for play" was not allowed under NIL terms, which created a large gray area of what sorts of financial arrangements athletes, schools, and NIL "collectives" could enter into, although deals believed to induce high-school or transfer athletes to attend a particular school were expressly forbidden.

 

Why Was The NCAA Sued By Tennessee and Virginia?

On January 31, 2021, the attorneys general of Tennessee and Virginia filed a joint lawsuit against the NCAA which argued that the organization's rules against athletes negotiating NIL deals during the recruitment process illegally restrict the rights of the athletes.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, the lawsuit was filed just a day after reports that the University of Tennessee and an NIL collective believed to be associated with the school's athletic program were being investigated by the NCAA for potential NIL infractions during the recruitment of top-rated high school prospect and current Volunteers quarterback Nico Iamaleava, who enrolled at the University of Tennessee in January of 2023.

 

What Does This Ruling Mean For College Sports?

To reiterate, Friday's ruling is only a temporary injunction and not a final ruling in the case against the NCAA. However, Judge Corker's opinion that "The NCAA's prohibition likely violates federal antitrust law and harms student-athletes," represents a significant blow to the NCAA's contention that it can monitor, restrict, and impose punishment for NIL activity.

As of Friday, athletes in every state are free to sign NIL deals during their recruitment or transfers without fear of punishment from the NCAA. This also means that schools and their booster-backed NIL collectives can be more aggressive and brazen in attempts to lure prospects to their programs either directly out of high school or as transfers from other programs.

Following the recent ruling, Tennessee's attorney general, Anthony Skrmetti, stated that his office would continue to pursue the case "to the fullest extent necessary to ensure the NCAA's monopoly cannot continue." The NCAA's official rebuttal stated, "Turning upside rules overwhelmingly supported by member schools will aggravate an already chaotic collegiate environment...". As collegiate athletics continue to evolve, this ruling appears to be just the latest blow to the NCAA, a massive organization that was founded in 1906 and has wielded enormous power over student-athletes for decades.



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