The University of Tennessee chancellor lashed out at the NCAA president in a scathing letter released Tuesday that said the “failed” organization is making “factually false and procedurally flawed” allegations that the school violated rules overseeing compensation. of names, images and likenesses to athletes.
Chancellor Donde Plowman wrote a letter to Charlie Baker on Monday shortly after Tennessee officials met with NCAA representatives to discuss the allegations. He said college sports leaders owe it to students and their families to act in their best interests with clear rules, and the NCAA is nowhere near providing that.
“Instead, two and a half years of memos, emails and vague and contradictory ‘guidance’ from the NCAA on name, image and likeness (NIL) have created extraordinary chaos that student-athletes and institutions are fighting back. to overcome,” Plowman wrote. “In short, the NCAA is failing.”
Plowman wrote that he appreciated that the NCAA staff listened to Tennessee’s arguments and agreed to evaluate them. But he also called it “intellectually dishonest” for NCAA enforcement staff to pursue violation cases as if students had no NIL rights or institutions were “intentionally violating” a “clear and immutable set of rules.” .
It is the NCAA’s policy to refrain from publicly commenting on current, pending or potential investigations, with rare exceptions.
While the NCAA lifted its ban on athletes profiting from their fame in 2021, the association still had an interim NIL policy in place that built on previous broad rules against using payments as recruiting incentives, pay-for-play and reinforcements involved in recruiting. of athletes. The NCAA issued several policy clarifications and guidance to members over the next 18 months, including identifying third-party entities that promote a school’s athletic department as a booster.
The booster-funded NIL collective that supports Tennessee athletes, the Volunteer Club founded by Spyre Sports Group, was among the first and best-organized to emerge nationwide after the NCAA lifted its ban on Athletes will earn money from their fame. That included a deal with prized 2023 quarterback pick Nico Iamaleava of California.
A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that NCAA investigators are closely examining Iamaleava’s recruitment and the NIL agreement with Spyre. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation were not made public.
Calls and text messages left by the AP to Spyre Group executives Hunter Baddour and James Clawson seeking comment were not immediately returned.
The NCAA has been trying to crack down on NIL-related violations lately, including suspending a Florida State assistant football coach for connecting a potential transfer to a collective representative. Florida, Tennessee’s Southeastern Conference rival, also received a notice of investigation from the NCAA in June, just under a year after an NIL deal went sour between former blue-chip recruit Jaden Rashada and a collective trying to work with the Gators athletes.
Plowman made it clear that he wanted to speak with Baker in person, especially since the NCAA president recently testified before Congress about his desire to meet with as many members and athletes as possible about issues surrounding college sports. Baker, who previously served as governor of Massachusetts, started in March 2023 and had no prior experience in college sports.
Plowman wrote the letter after her December request for Baker to meet with her and Tennessee athletic director Danny White was rejected.
He said Tennessee worked well with the NCAA in a recent investigation, cooperation cited by the Division I Committee on Infractions as the standard for others to follow. Plowman wrote, “When we were wrong at the University of Tennessee, we admitted it.”
Tennessee could be in danger of being treated as a repeat offender by the NCAA, which could make sanctions even more severe. Schools are subject to being considered repeat offenders if a Level I and II violation occurs within five years of enacting a sanction for a prior case.
The NCAA fined Tennessee more than $8 million last July to end an investigation launched by the university in November 2020. The NCAA needed more than 80 pages in its report outlining more than 200 violations over three years. under former football coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Tennessee was found guilty of committing 18 Level I violations, the most serious. Most involved recruiting violations and direct payments to athletes and their families with benefits totaling approximately $60,000.
The head of the panel that resolved the investigation called the violations “egregious and expansive,” and Tennessee failed to monitor its football program.
Only Tennessee’s early cooperation with the NCAA prevented the program from being banned from the postseason. Four former employees were given show cause orders, including one that lasted six years for Pruitt, who was fired in January 2021.
“It is inconceivable that the leadership of our institution would be cited as an example of exemplary leadership in July 2023, and then as a warning example of a lack of institutional control just six months later,” Plowman wrote in the letter.
Last year’s NCAA report found violations including at least 110 hotel room nights not allowed, 180 meals not allowed, 72 cases of providing entertainment or other benefits not allowed, 41 recruiting contacts not allowed, 37 cases of providing no parking allowed on game day and 14 times equipment was used. was impermissibly provided to potential customers.
Tennessee just wrapped up a third season under coach Josh Heupel with a 9-4 record. Iamaleava made his first career start in a 35-0 rout of Iowa in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.
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