The NCAA is investigating the Tennessee football program for possible NIL violations, but the university has hit back over the governing body’s vague rules about collectives.
After multiple outlets said Tuesday that the NCAA is probing Tennessee’s NIL operation, the New York Times reported the case centers on donors paying for a private jet to fly five-star quarterback recruit Nico Iamaleava to the campus in Knoxville.
Iamaleava later signed a lucrative name, image and likeness deal with Spyre Sports Group, Tennessee’s primary collective. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported last year that Iamaleava’s NIL deal was worth $8 million.
The university told news outlets it had not yet received a formal notice of allegations. Later Tuesday, Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman addressed a letter to NCAA president Charlie Baker and said the NCAA’s leadership should operate in athletes’ best interest.
“Instead, two and a half years of vague and contradictory NCAA memos, emails and ‘guidance about name, image and likeness (NIL) has created extraordinary chaos that student-athletes and institutions are struggling to navigate. In short, the NCAA is failing,” Plowman wrote in part.
“Earlier today, a team from the University of Tennessee met with members of your enforcement staff to discuss allegations the NCAA intends to bring against Tennessee related to NIL. We appreciate your staff listening to our arguments and agreeing to evaluate them. The NCAA’s allegations are factually untrue and procedurally flawed. Moreover, it is intellectually dishonest for the NCAA enforcement staff to pursue infractions cases as if student-athletes have no NIL rights and as if institutions all have been functioning post-Alston with a clear and unchanging set of rules and willfully violating them.”
The 2021 case of NCAA v. Alston saw the Supreme Court uphold a lower court’s decision that limiting students’ ability to capitalize on their name, image and likeness violated antitrust law.
Plowman went on to write that “We owe it to student-athletes and their families to have clear rules,” and “The NCAA owes member institutions a spirit of partnership in problem-solving.”
Iamaleava joined Tennessee in 2023 and appeared in five games for the Volunteers as a freshman. The freshman was named the Citrus Bowl MVP after rushing for three touchdowns and passing for one touchdown in a 35-0 win against Iowa on Jan. 1.
Tennessee football was penalized last year for 18 Level I violations and more than 200 total infractions, mostly encompassing recruiting rules and direct payments to players and their families.