NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee (UT) could see the most serious charges dropped by the NCAA if a federal judge grants a preliminary injunction on February 13 to freeze the association’s name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules. Even if the injunction is denied, UT would still have legal grounds to challenge the NCAA penalties related to NIL, according to Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. He stated that the judge’s recent opinion, which denied a temporary restraining order, strengthened UT’s position against potential NCAA sanctions.
Skrmetti argued that an injunction would weaken the NCAA’s ability to enforce the very NIL rules it claims UT violated. He emphasized that the judge’s opinion already indicated that UT was likely to succeed in its claim that the NCAA’s rules violated antitrust laws. Skrmetti also suggested that if the NCAA imposed harsh penalties on UT for breaking NIL rules, the university would be justified in suing the association.
The state of Tennessee and UT are currently battling the NCAA on different fronts. They filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA on January 31, seeking to halt what they call the NCAA’s “NIL-recruiting ban.” Skrmetti explained that the lawsuit and the NCAA investigation are not directly connected but acknowledged that the outcome of the lawsuit could impact the investigation.
The next step in the legal battle will be the consideration of the preliminary injunction by Judge Clifton Corker in the Eastern Tennessee District of federal court in Greeneville. While Skrmetti acknowledged that winning the injunction hearing would be a challenge, he believed that UT’s strong position in the case goes beyond relying solely on the order to fend off the NCAA probe.
If the injunction is denied, the NIL rules will remain in place until the conclusion of the lawsuit, which could take months or even years through the appeals process. Surviving the legal challenges could embolden the NCAA to press forward with its investigation into UT. However, Skrmetti argued that the judge’s previous statements indicate that the NCAA may be on shaky ground. The judge described the NIL-recruiting ban as “anticompetitive” and stated that it likely harms competition.
The potential penalty that UT could face in the NCAA investigation is lack of institutional control, which could result in a postseason ban for the football team. Skrmetti suggested that this latest investigation may be motivated by the NCAA’s failure to impose a postseason ban in the Jeremy Pruitt recruiting scandal. He also criticized the ambiguity and ever-changing nature of the NCAA’s NIL rules, which he believes led to UT’s current case and his lawsuit.
Regardless of whether the injunction is granted or denied, Skrmetti argued that UT has a strong defense against the NCAA on the grounds of due process. He explained that the rules in question may not have been in place when UT allegedly violated them and that retroactively enforcing these rules would violate fundamental principles of due process.
The NCAA investigation into UT involves allegations of NIL rule violations in multiple sports, including football. Quarterback Nico Iamaleava may be specifically targeted for alleged recruiting inducements. The NCAA has not implicated any specific players or incidents but mentioned that using NIL offers as recruiting inducements is a violation of its rules.
As the legal battle unfolds, the state of Tennessee and UT are fighting to protect the university and its student-athletes from what they see as unjust and unclear NCAA rules. They hope to secure a preliminary injunction and challenge the penalties imposed by the NCAA, arguing that the association’s actions may be in violation of antitrust laws and due process.