Hayes: Tennessee tells the NCAA exactly what it thinks about its NIL investigation ... and I'm here for it
They’ve blown it from the jump, pining away for a former life and a former time that’s never coming back.
Now that the NCAA has reached the final throes of what once was, it has decided to lash out at everyone and anyone — in the desperate hope of gaining control lost long ago.
But when you swing wildly, you eventually hit something you shouldn’t.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce Tennessee — and the eventual end of all things NCAA enforcement.
The Vols are again under NCAA investigation, this time for alleged NIL improprieties that include QB Nico Iamaleava, according to the New York Times. Last July, Tennessee was placed on probation and fined $8 million by the NCAA for violations that occurred under former coach Jeremy Pruitt.
This is significant because as a repeat violator, Tennessee could be facing strict penalties, including but not limited to a postseason ban.
What is Tennessee’s crime this time around, you ask? Not knowing what the hell is going on with NIL rules.
Which essentially falls in line with everyone else in college sports.
It is here where we go back to a more normal place and time, when masks and jabs and a pandemic ruled the world — and the states of California and Florida decided to pass a law in 2020 that allowed student-athletes to earn off their name, image and likeness.
No matter what the NCAA said.
So the NCAA, in its infinite genius, decided to have multiple meetings with multiple muckety-mucks and decry the fate of the amateur model. For 16 months.
That’s right, the NCAA knew for 16 months that the states of California and Florida — and eventually many others — would begin allowing student-athletes to earn in July of 2021, and did nothing about it.
When I say nothing, I mean nothing.
They met in groups for 16 months, and they talked about finding “guardrails” to the problem, and hoped against hope that Congress would help. Imagine that, assistance from the 9 most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
Then July 2021 arrived, and lo and behold, guess who had no answers? So what did the NCAA do?
They kept complaining. Then its coaches started complaining, too — publicly whining about a lack of “guardrails” and how NIL wasn’t “sustainable” and would be the death of college football.
Only it isn’t.
In fact, these same men and women who run universities, who complained about players earning off their name, image and likeness and the death of their beloved amateur model, became the same people expanding the reach and strength of their conferences at the expenses of each other.
The same people who, in a few months, will sign a new media rights contract for the 12-team Playoff that will fetch more than a billion annually. Death, everyone, never paid so well.
But apparently, they can’t figure out the whole NIL thing.
This, of course, brings us all the way back to Tennessee. They’re fed up, and they’re not taking it anymore.
It’s one thing to stroke the NCAA a check for $8 million because you hired a P.E. coach to run your football program, and — I know this is going to shock everyone — he (and his wife!) started handing out cash in paper bags like they were candy on Halloween.
It’s another to face down the barrel again — and be staring at a postseason ban — for not following NIL rules. You know, the “guidance” from the NCAA about dealing with NIL.
I’m not kidding, the NCAA once called it “guidance” on how to navigate the rip-roaring waters of NIL. So now we come to find out that Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman fired off a letter to NCAA president Charlie Baker, ripping the organization for the way it has handled NIL.
Plowman said no one understands the NCAA guidance set forth on the groundbreaking change, and said, “two and a half years of vague and contradictory NCAA memos” created “chaos” that NCAA member institutions and student athletes are “struggling to navigate.”
Tennessee, everyone, isn’t putting up with this. Nor is Florida State (punished for NIL violations) and Florida (being investigated for alleged NIL violations) and, according to multiple sources, many other Power 5 programs. How many?
One Power 5 athletic director told SDS that, after speaking with colleagues, the number of programs being investigated by the NCAA enforcement staff is believed to be “double-digits” and growing.
The NCAA punted on finding a solution, then issued guidance, and then complained about the loss of their collective souls. And then came out firing — after it became obvious they’d lost all control.
Here’s a simple fix: There are no rules.
If a school wants to be the middle man and set up an NIL deal with a high school player or a current college player and a collective, by all means, make it happen.
I’m still trying to figure out what in the world is wrong with that policy? Why is it that the adults in the room making billions in media rights fees are so obsessed with young people earning?
Will there be an unequal playing field? Of course there will.
But you know what else there will be? The end of a select 3-4 programs dominating the postseason. Because when everyone can pay players above board (not like the Family Pruitt), the dynamics of who can win and how dramatically change.
In the 2 full years since NIL and free player movement was unleashed, TCU (2022) and Washington (2023) played in the national championship game.
There’s no better response to the “end of college football” and the “not sustainable” arguments.
The NCAA — by investigating programs for NIL irregularities (when there should be no such thing) after they punted on the process — is setting up a showdown with the heavyweights of college sports.
That’s when they all threaten to walk away — and take their Playoff, and basketball tournament — and form their own 50-60 school club. Or else.
Welcome, everyone, to the end of NCAA enforcement.
When you swing wildly, you eventually connect.