February 27

NIL Advocates Win Big As Judge Halts NCAA Rule

Athletes, Finance, NIL, Sports

NIL advocates just received encouraging news after a Tennessee judge granted a preliminary injunction against an NCAA rule that significantly limits students seeking NIL deals. What exactly does that mean? 

Let's break it down. 

The Basics Of The NIL Ruling And What It Means For Student Athletes

At a high level, this development means the NCAA can't stop high school students from searching for the best NIL deals before signing with a college or university. And, it can't stop universities, boosters, or collectives from offering them to students, either. 

High school students are now able to negotiate and sign NIL contracts freely, both with third parties, NIL collectives, and universities themselves. Prior to a Tennessee judge's ruling, the NCAA still had rules in place that forbid this practice. And in several cases, the NCAA was actively investigating universities for potentially violating these rules, which could result in various penalties, fines, and bans. 

Although there were plenty of examples of student athletes negotiating deals despite these rules, the NCAA could still punish them if they so chose. 

Alright, so now that you have a general understanding of what this news means, we'll talk a little bit more specifically about the terms around this ruling, how long it might last, and what the future could bring. 

Understanding This Injunction 

Tennessee Judge Clifton Corker issued a preliminary injunction against an NCAA ban on NIL recruiting inducements. That doesn't mean Judge Corker struck the ban down entirely, though. This injunction basically means that the NCAA's NIL ban can't be enforced while lawsuits involving the ban play out in other courts.

Why was a Tennessee judge the one to issue the injunction? Because the states of Tennessee and Virginia got together to sue the NCAA over its ban. Right now, the flagship university in Tennessee (the aptly named University of Tennessee) is currently under investigation for violating the NCAA's NIL ban. But the state argued that the ban itself is illegal and violated antitrust laws. 

Judge Corker's ruling affects way more than just Tennessee and Virginia, though. It prohibits the NCAA from enforcing these rules for 1,088 institutions and more than 523,000 student athletes across the country. 

The injunction itself is not a final ruling in the case, however. It's simply a move to stop the rules from being enforced until the courts have more time to fully understand the implications of the rules and make a final verdict. 

What Are People Saying About Judge Corker's Decision?

In issuing his preliminary injunction, Judge Corker hinted at a tough legal battle ahead for the NCAA. "Without the give and take of a free market, student-athletes simply have no knowledge of their true NIL value," Corker wrote in his decision. "It is this suppression of negotiating leverage and the consequential lack of knowledge that harms student-athletes."

But Corker went even further, writing that the NCAA's rule "likely violates federal antitrust law and harms student-athletes." Corker also restricted the NCAA from prohibiting boosters and collectives from negotiating with student athletes. 

Meanwhile, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti didn't mince words after the judge's ruling. "The court's grant of a preliminary injunction against the NCAA’s illegal NIL-recruitment ban ensures the rights of student-athletes will be protected for the duration of this case, but the bigger fight continues," Skrmetti said via statement. "We will litigate this case to the fullest extent necessary to ensure the NCAA's monopoly cannot continue to harm Tennessee student-athletes. The NCAA is not above the law, and the law is on our side."

The NCAA didn't directly address Judge Corker's ruling, but did allude to a need for a federal level law. The NCAA told CBS Sports that "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."

What All This Means For Students Seeking NIL Deals

While well-paid lawyers and state attorneys general continue to battle it out in court, student athletes can at least rest assured that they have some protections in pursuing NIL deals before committing to a school — not just while at the school. 

And as we've discussed here before, there are serious opportunities for student athletes at all levels, not just the top recruiting names in the country. But as the space heats up, there's sure to be more and more chatter around how universities and collectives can best provide opportunities for student athletes. 


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