A judge on Tuesday kept in place for now the NCAA's rules prohibiting name, image and likeness compensation from being used as a recruiting inducement, denying a request for a temporary restraining order by the states of Tennessee and Virginia.
The attorneys general of those states filed a federal antitrust lawsuit in the Eastern District of Tennessee last week that challenged the NCAA's NIL rules, after it was revealed the University of Tennessee was under investigation by the association for potential infractions.
The states asked for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, saying immediate action was needed to keep the NCAA from standing in the way of recruits monetizing their fame. The period in which high school football recruits can sign scholarship agreements with schools starts Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Clifton Corker wrote that the states have failed to demonstrate that recruits would be irreparably harmed if the temporary restraining order was not granted.
A preliminary injunction hearing is set for Feb. 13.
“The NCAA fully supports student-athletes profiting from their NIL rights, and the Association looks forward to discussing how member schools and conferences overwhelmingly support the current rules that prohibit tampering and unchecked recruiting contacts,” the NCAA said in a statement.
Corker hinted the NCAA's victory might be short-lived. He wrote that by banning NIL-related recruiting, schools that compete against one another are engaging in “anticompetitive” actions.
"Considering the evidence currently before the Court, Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim under the Sherman Act,” the judge wrote, citing a landmark law that bans monopolies.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti issued a statement Tuesday night noting the judge's comment that the states are likely to prevail.
“We look forward to litigating this case and enforcing the law,” Skrmetti said.
The court’s decision comes a day after a different body struck a blow against the NCAA’s authority to regulate compensation for athletes.
On Monday, a National Labor Relations Board official ruled members of the Dartmouth men’s basketball team are employees of the school and could vote to form a union, which the players plan to do.
In another challenge to the NCAA’s authority coming from Tennessee, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn teamed with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to re-introduce the NCAA Accountability Act. The bill targets NCAA investigations and aims to give more due-process protections to athletes, coaches and others drawing scrutiny from the association’s enforcement arm.
The Tennessee case is one of at least six antitrust lawsuits the NCAA is defending as it struggles to maintain control and waits for help from Congress in the form of a federal law with some antitrust protections.
Corker even cited one of those suits, which is seeking damages that could be worth billions of dollars to athletes who were denied NIL opportunities under the NCAA's old rules. Corker said current recruits would not be irreparably harmed by the NCAA's rules staying in place for now because they could collect damages later.
In December, a group of states challenged NCAA rules regarding multi-time transfers, with the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order being granted. In that case, the NCAA conceded in the short term and asked for the TRO to be extended to clear up confusion about athletes’ eligibility for the rest of the spring semester. The NCAA is working to reform its transfer rules.
In the Tennessee case, the NCAA seems less likely to concede.
The NCAA claimed in a filing last weekend that granting the states a TRO would “invite chaos” into the recruiting of college athletes.
The states replied the NCAA created confusion with ambiguous and evolving rules after it lifted its ban against college athletes being compensated for NIL in 2021 and now is defending “a world that doesn’t exist.”
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