Federal Judge Blocks NCAA’s Restriction on Name, Image, and Likeness Compensation, Posing a Challenge to College Sports Governance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. and RICHMOND, Va. — The NCAA suffered a setback on Friday as a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction, prohibiting the enforcement of its rules that prevent college athletes from receiving compensation for their name, image, and likeness. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Clifton Corker in the Eastern District of Tennessee challenges the long-standing principle of amateurism in college sports, which prohibits third parties from paying recruits to attend specific schools.

Judge Corker stated that the NCAA’s prohibition likely violates federal antitrust law and harms the student-athletes. The plaintiffs argued that since the NCAA lifted its ban on athletes profiting from their fame, recruits have been considering name, image, and likeness opportunities when choosing a school. The judge rejected the NCAA’s argument that allowing such opportunities would blur the line between college athletics and professional sports.

While the NCAA does permit student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness, the judge emphasized that the timing of when a student-athlete enters into such agreements does not undermine the preservation of amateurism. In fact, he noted that the rules connecting deals to athletic performance are potentially more effective in upholding the concept of amateurism than the ban on name, image, and likeness recruiting.

The lawsuit, filed by the attorneys general of Tennessee and Virginia, challenged the NCAA’s rules on name, image, and likeness. It was brought to light after the University of Tennessee faced a potential infractions investigation by the NCAA. Initially, the states were denied a temporary restraining order, as they failed to prove irreparable harm to the athletes if the NCAA’s rules remained in place. However, Judge Corker expressed his belief that the states were likely to succeed in their case in the long run.

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti celebrated the injunction as a crucial step in protecting the rights of athletes from the NCAA’s “illegal NIL-recruitment ban.” He vowed to continue litigating the case to ensure that the NCAA’s monopoly does not harm Tennessee student-athletes.

The ruling also represents a victory for the University of Tennessee, which strongly rebuked the NCAA’s allegations of violations regarding deals between athletes and a booster-funded NIL collective. The university’s chancellor called it intellectually dishonest for the NCAA to pursue infractions cases without acknowledging the NIL rights of student-athletes. It is important to note that the NCAA has not formally accused Tennessee of any violations.

The NCAA’s authority to regulate compensation for athletes has faced numerous challenges, with a National Labor Relations Board official recently ruling that members of the Dartmouth men’s basketball team are employees of the school and can vote to form a union. Alongside the Tennessee case, the NCAA is currently defending itself against at least six antitrust lawsuits while seeking congressional antitrust protections.

In conclusion, the federal judge’s decision to grant the preliminary injunction against the NCAA’s name, image, and likeness rules marks a formidable blow to the association’s long-standing model of amateurism. The impact of this ruling will extend beyond Tennessee and Virginia, setting a precedent for the ongoing national debate surrounding athlete compensation in college sports. As the legal battles continue, the NCAA’s authority and control over student-athlete compensation face increased scrutiny.