Tennessee vs. the NCAA

By Mark Nagi

The University of Tennessee has its share of rivals when it comes to its athletics teams.

Lady Vols basketball against UConn. Vols football and men’s basketball against Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and the rest of the SEC. UT baseball against… everyone.

But there might not be a bigger, and more important rivalry for Tennessee than its battles with the NCAA. This is a rivalry that not only will play a part in the future of UT’s athletics program, but the entire collegiate athletics system.

On Friday, February 23, a federal judge in Greeneville granted a preliminary injunction, basically ruling that the NCAA could no longer legally enforce its NIL policies.

“The NCAA’s prohibition likely violates federal antitrust law and harms student-athletes,” U.S. District Judge Clifton Corker wrote in his decision.

Anthony Skrmetti, Tennessee’s attorney general who teamed up with the Virginia attorney general in this lawsuit against the NCAA, said in a statement, “The NCAA is not above the law, and the law is on our side.”

The NCAA released a statement in response to that federal injunction, and it read just as you would expect it to read.

“Turning upside down rules overwhelmingly supported by member schools will aggravate an already chaotic collegiate environment, further diminishing protections for student-athletes from exploitation.  The NCAA fully supports student-athletes making money from their name, image and likeness and is making changes to deliver more benefits to student-athletes, but an endless patchwork of state laws and court opinions make clear partnering with Congress is necessary to provide stability for the future of all college athletes.”

Keep in mind that the NCAA spent decades fighting to keep student-athletes from getting an extra box lunch from Chick-fil-A. They spent tens of millions of dollars on lawyers in efforts to stop student-athletes from receiving any money at all for their own hard work and God given talents.

But we are supposed to believe that the NCAA “fully supports student-athletes making money” from NIL? If you believe that I have a terrific bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

The ramifications from this ruling, and the other lawsuits still making their way through the judicial system, could be the end of the NCAA as we know it.

“Short of intervention by Congress, the demise of the NCAA now seems inevitable based on nothing but a financial analysis, as it appears the NCAA is poised to lose all of its upcoming antitrust cases,” said attorney Tom Mars, who is working with Tennessee collective Spyre Sports Group.  “The cumulative effect of which could make the NCAA financially insolvent.”

“A bad case is a bad case, and they’ve put all their defenses forward,” Mars added. “And there’s no precedent anywhere in the United States that supports their defenses.”

Despite the overwhelming popularity of college football and the NCAA tournament for men’s basketball, the collegiate athletics model is broken. The NCAA could have been working towards finding solutions, but instead has acted as obstructionists.  Maybe the only surprise is that it took this long to get to get here.

Make no mistake, most of the colleges and universities were happy to see Tennessee take charge and bring the fight to the NCAA.

Certainly, the NCAA will keep fighting against these rulings, but the toothpaste is out of the tube.

And Tennessee is doing all it can to make sure it doesn’t find its way back in.