Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti cited NIL in helping the Volunteers football program avoid a postseason ban as part of the NCAA’s penalties for a years-long investigation into recruiting infractions during the Jeremy Pruitt tenure, stating that “NCAA rules cannot supersede Tennessee law,” per Adam Sparks of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Skrmetti argued that a NCAA postseason ban would violate the state’s newly-implemented NIL law as it would restrict the athlete’s capability to earn money via NIL to the rate they would otherwise. The law was purposefully amended during the investigation to help Tennessee leverage itself to “produce a favorable verdict” from the NCAA.
“Tennessee law prohibits the NCAA from imposing such a sanction and I will not hesitate to vindicate the rights of UT students to enjoy the full measure of ther intercollegiate athletic opportunities,” Skrmetti wrote in a letter he penned to the NCAA Vice President of Legas Affairs Scott Bearby, via Sparks. “NCAA rules cannot supersede Tennessee law.”
Given that Pruitt is no longer with the program after being fired in January 2020 following an internal investigation into the violations, Skrmetti viewed any punishment for current players and coaches that had nothing to do with the infractions would hinder their NIL rights. Following Tennessee‘s breakout season in 2022, the Vols are once again expecting to participate in a major bowl game on the national stage this season.
“These rules are consistent with basic human decency,” Skrmetti wrote. “Kids who do no wrong should not be punished.”
Skrmetti penned the letter on March 31, which was only weeks before the hearing was set to begin in Cincinnati on April 19. The NCAA considered this a “late submission,” but was accepted due to being, “pertinent to the institution’s arguments with respect to … the imposition of penalities.” The letter ultimately swayed the NCAA
The NCAA announced its verdict on the investigation on Friday, giving Pruitt and seven of his former assistant coaches show-cause orders, which effectively inhibits (but doesn’t stop) universities from hiring those coaches during the length of the ban. Pruitt landed a six-year ban, while the rest received multi-year penalties ranging from 2-10 years as well. If Pruitt is hired by any university before his show-cause order is finished, he will be suspended for the first year of his contract regardless of the position.
Instead of a postseason ban, Tennessee was handed a five-year probation that included 28 scholarship cuts, two years worth of vacated wins (11 in total) and various recruiting restrictions. Tennessee will also have to pay a hefty fine of more than $8 million. A full list of the penalties can be found here.