NCAA can no longer enforce NIL rules after federal judge grants injunction

The NCAA has lost the authority to enforce any rules on name, image and likeness compensation for student-athletes, for now and potentially for good.

Federal judge Clifton Corker granted a preliminary injunction suspending the NCAA's NIL rules as part of the lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Tennessee and Virginia against the organization, according to Adam Sparks of the Knoxville News Sentinel. The decision will apply nationwide.

Corker found that the current NIL rules caused irreparable damages to student-athletes and the NCAA's ban on using NIL money as recruiting inducements "likely violates federal antitrust law." From the News Sentinel:

"(W)ithout the give and take of a free market, student-athletes simply have no knowledge of their true NIL value," Corker wrote. "It is this suppression of negotiating leverage and the consequential lack of knowledge that harms student-athletes."

The decision is a disaster for the NCAA, which has been trying to grasp any authority it can in the landscape created by the 2021 Supreme Court ruling opening the door for NIL compensation.

College athletes are now free to directly negotiate their compensation and sign NIL contracts before enrolling at a school and will be able to do so until at least the end of the court case. The injunction alone is a bad omen for the NCAA's chances, and is a direct blowback from its investigation into the Tennessee football program for alleged breaches of NIL rules.

The Tennessee and Virginia AGs filed their lawsuit one day after that investigation was announced.

Jun 11, 2021; Eugene, Oregon, USA; An NCAA logo flag at the NCAA Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The NCAA's investigation into Tennessee for NIL violations could lead to the end of NIL rules. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY Sports / Reuters)

The NCAA was unsurprisingly displeased with the outcome, per a statement to ESPN's Pete Thamel:

“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.”

Meanwhile, Tennessee AG Jonathan Skrmetti hailed the injunction as a victory for student-athletes and promised to continue the litigation, via the New Sentinel:

"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 in a 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's legal situation remains dire for reasons beyond this case as well, as it's fighting on a number of legal fronts, including the Dartmouth unionization effort that could see other schools' student-athletes organizea lawsuit that could open the door to unlimited transfers. And that's to say nothing of the looming threat of the Big Ten and SEC breaking away.