Lawsuit Filed by Tennessee and Virginia Attorneys General Alleges NCAA’s NIL Rules as Antitrust Violations

The NCAA’s investigation into potential violations of name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules by the Tennessee Vols has escalated concerns for the NCAA.

According to ESPN’s Pete Thamel, attorneys general from Tennessee and Virginia have initiated a federal lawsuit against the NCAA, alleging that the NIL regulations constitute antitrust violations.

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti asserted in the lawsuit, as reported by Adam Sparks of the Knoxville News Sentinel, that the NCAA breached federal antitrust laws by imposing ambiguous and evolving rules regarding the benefits athletes receive from their name, image, and likeness.

Skrmetti emphasized the lawsuit’s aim to safeguard the rights of present and future Tennessee student-athletes across various regions of the state. Filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee federal court, the suit referenced the Vols’ investigation as evidence of the “unlawful restriction” of the NIL policy.

Should the university be classified as a repeat violator under the ongoing NCAA investigation, Tennessee faces potential sanctions. The Vols were previously charged with 18 Level 1 violations and fined a record $8 million in an unprecedented NCAA ruling during the summer.

Thamel’s report highlighted that the investigation into Tennessee revolves around activities associated with the Spyre Sports Group, the university’s primary NIL collective, primarily linked to football but extending to athletes in other sports.

Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman refuted the allegations in an email to NCAA president Charlie Baker, echoing sentiments expressed in Skrmetti’s lawsuit. Plowman criticized the NCAA for generating confusion with vague and contradictory guidance on NIL matters, ultimately leading to institutional and student-athlete difficulties.

Skrmetti’s lawsuit seeks to ease restrictions on recruits’ ability to negotiate NIL agreements and communicate with schools regarding NIL opportunities before enrollment or commitment.

“Student-athletes deserve clear and equitable rules,” Skrmetti asserted, underscoring that the NCAA’s constraints on prospective students’ ability to engage in meaningful NIL negotiations violate federal antitrust laws, which only Congress has the authority to regulate.

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