Tennessee and the NCAA are in a shooting war for the first time in the colorful history of the national governing body of college sports.
Be sure somebody is going to get hurt.
It appears the NCAA has designated the Volunteers as the bad boys of the name, image and likeness movement that is sweeping the country. A vague investigation is underway. It appears details were purposely leaked in a bid to build public support.
The University of Tennessee didn’t take kindly to what it considered an unfair and illogical attack. It rolled out some heavy guns and fired back boldly. Chancellor Donde Plowman took the lead. She said some blistering things out loud to the NCAA that many have whispered.
“Morally wrong…factually untrue…procedurally flawed… intellectually dishonest.”
Many believe the NCAA is no longer capable of maintaining law and order. Could be it just doesn’t know what it is doing. It may have lost its way. The latest police action seems a direct contradiction to what the new president has proposed.
Charlie Baker, 67, a Harvard man, former governor of Massachusetts, sounded more like peace on Earth. He understands college athletes are going to make some money. The Supreme Court so ordained by a 9-0 vote.
Baker floated the idea of dramatic change, that schools interested and capable of big-time athletics should have their own division, bring NIL operations in-house and essentially make their own rules.
NCAA investigators, with strange guidance or none at all, are going in a different direction, in pursuit of retroactive punishment for NIL activity when the organization was trying to grasp circumstances.
The bulls-eye may be Nico Iamaleava, Tennessee quarterback. The Spyre Sports Group, a powerful NIL collective based in Knoxville, raised the money and has signed more than 200 UT athletes across 11 sports. It started with Nico. The contract looks clean. It spells out no recruiting intent. It is signed by all concerned and notarized.
Alas, Spyre people talked too much in the beginning. They bragged. Without question, they influenced recruiting without paying in advance. The NCAA has decided that was a sin. In a court of law, it probably wasn’t.
The entire ball of hot wax is headed for court.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti has filed suit against the NCAA (in the Eastern District of Tennessee federal court) over its “NIL-recruiting ban.”
Skrmetti said he sued “to protect the rights of current and future Tennessee student-athletes …”
He argues the NCAA violates federal antitrust laws by putting a “shifting and opaque series of rules and guidelines” around athletes’ benefits for their name, image and likeness.
Virginia’s attorney general also filed suit.
Governor Bill Lee was firmly supportive of Chancellor Plowman, the school and student athletes.
“The University of Tennessee has been nothing but forthcoming with the NCAA, and I thank Chancellor Donde Plowman for taking a stand on behalf of all universities and student athletes,” Lee said.
“It’s time for the NCAA to establish clear rules in the interest of student athletes, rather than try to retroactively enforce ever-changing name, image and likeness guidance.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett endorsed Plowman’s reaction to “bogus accusations” by the NCAA.
“They created this NIL mess with no guidelines and now they appear to be attacking us retroactively.”
Dr. Danny White, Tennessee vice chancellor and director of athletics, said amen.
“The NCAA generally does not comment on infractions cases because there is a rule against it; however, that has not stopped them in the past from leaking information to the media as they did this week about us. Their actions made this ill-conceived investigation public and forced us to defend ourselves.
“It is clear that the NCAA staff does not understand what is happening at the campus level all over the country in the NIL space.
“After reviewing thousands of Tennessee coach and personnel phone records, NCAA investigators didn’t find a single NIL violation, so they moved the goalpost to fit a predetermined outcome.
“They are stating that the nebulous, contradictory NIL guidelines (written by the NCAA, not the membership) don’t matter and applying the old booster bylaws to collectives.
“If that’s the case, then 100% of the major programs in college athletics have significant violations. This is obviously silly and not productive, as is blaming the membership whenever they are challenged.”
Sometime soon SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey may have something to say to or about the NCAA. Florida is also a target.
There has never been anything like an open war between Tennessee and the NCAA. For decades, the school has been a supporting pillar. When it violated rules, it cooperated with the governing body and accepted whatever punishment was handed down.
UT did more than cooperate in the Jeremy Pruitt case. It funded the heavy lifting and presented the case, tied up with ribbon, to the NCAA. It paid the fine and didn’t alibi.
Plowman reminded the godfathers that the NCAA praised UT for its exemplary cooperation.
“It is inconceivable that our institution’s leadership would be cited as an example of exemplary leadership in July 2023, then as a cautionary example of a lack of institutional control only six months later,” Plowman said.
Good point. Powerful presentation. Leadership in action.
Marvin West welcome comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org