NCAA files response in Tennessee lawsuit, cites state’s laws barring NIL in recruiting

The NCAA on Saturday filed its legal response to the lawsuit filed by attorneys general from Tennessee and Virginia over the legality of name, image and likeness rules around recruiting, arguing that there is no case for injunctive relief to temporarily invalidate the NCAA’s rules.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this week, argues that the NCAA’s NIL rules around recruiting are an antitrust violation and requests a temporary restraining order to prevent the NCAA from enforcing those rules. It comes amid an NCAA investigation into multiple potential rules violations around NIL at Tennessee, the existence of which was made public on Monday and referenced in a letter from Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman to NCAA president Charlie Baker.

The NCAA’s response argues that the two states fail to show irreparable harm in part because Tennessee’s own state law bars NIL inducements in recruiting. It also claims that the initial lawsuit doesn’t provide evidence the athlete opportunities are “chilled” by these rules, and it argues the lawsuit gives no reason for a need for injunctive relief because the NCAA’s NIL rules have been in place for years.

“Tennessee is not irreparably harmed by rules restricting something the State’s laws independently prohibit,” the NCAA’s lawyers wrote, later adding, “The rules they seek to challenge have been in effect for years, and Plaintiffs offer no justification for claiming an entitlement to emergency relief on a truncated record after delaying years in seeking any relief.”

The response also makes the case, as the NCAA has argued before, that it is a voluntary organization and that schools, including Tennessee, have long agreed to be involved in the NCAA governance process and abide by its rules.

The move by the NCAA is a procedural one. It had until 6 p.m. ET on Saturday to file its response. Tennessee and Virginia have their own deadline for a response on Sunday, and a hearing is scheduled for Feb. 13, though a decision could come earlier.

The NCAA also argued that the purpose of injunctive relief from a court is to preserve the status quo, and the NCAA’s rules are already the status quo.

In order to receive injunctive relief, the court must consider four factors: the likelihood of the plaintiff succeeding on the merits, whether the plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm without relief, whether an injunction will cause harm to others and whether the public’s interest is advanced.

The NCAA noted it has been adjusting its NIL rules for current athletes and argued that a sudden court ruling preventing the enforcement of the NIL rules around recruiting would create “chaos.” While the lawsuit argues the rules are anticompetitive in the market, the NCAA argues its rules are pro-competitive.

“There is no reason to upend this process, invite chaos on a moment’s notice, and transform college sports into an environment where players and schools match up based primarily on the dollars that can change hands,” NCAA lawyers wrote. “Requests for radical change require sound deliberation. They benefit from a complete record and fulsome consideration. The Court should deny Plaintiffs’ late-breaking and ill-conceived request for injunctive relief.”

(Photo: Randy Sartin / USA Today)

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