LifeWallet CEO John Ruiz says he’ll sue NCAA following Miami sanctions

On3 imageby:Pete Nakos03/08/23


LifeWallet CEO John Ruiz plans to sue the NCAA, he told On3 on Wednesday in a phone interview.

When the NCAA recently placed Miami on probation regarding an impermissible benefit during the recruitment of women’s basketball players Hanna and Haley Cavinder, the association labeled Ruiz as a booster. He said he plans to file suit within the next 10 business days. Ruiz said his legal team will represent him and will file in the state of Florida.

“The main gist of it is I’m not a booster,” Ruiz said Wednesday. “Therefore, the categorization of me as a booster is legally incorrect. There has already been an agreement in place. I think the university could petition them back to shorten the probation period.”

The NCAA did not respond to a request for comment. A law expert told On3 the case would not fall under defamation but could call for a declaratory judgement, which resolves legal uncertainty between two parties. It is typically sought in the insurance realm.

Miami women’s basketball coach Katie Meier sat out the first three games of the 2022-23 season, and the program is on a one-year probation. The NCAA said the Cavinders had an impermissible meal with Ruiz, who it classified as a Miami booster. The governing body did not disassociate him from the institution, which would prevent him from receiving special in-venue seating, booster memberships and interactions with coaches.

While the ruling was not related to the athletes’ NIL rights, it has been classified as an NIL-adjacent infraction.

The NCAA defines a booster as “representatives of the institution’s athletic interests.” That classification is earned by providing a donation in order to obtain season tickets, participating in an athletics program, making financial contributions to the school, providing employment for enrolled athletes, assisting in the recruitment of high school prospects or assisting in providing benefits to enrolled athletes.

Ruiz’s two sons played baseball for the Hurricanes.

His case against the NCAA will center on the idea that he is not a Miami booster because his company struck the deals with athletes. If the NCAA views him as a Hurricanes booster, Ruiz wondered how the organization would classify him if he approached athletes at Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Alabama with NIL deals.

Ruiz is the owner of the health technology platform Lifewallet, and distributed more than $10 million in NIL deals in the first year of college athletics’ new era. While the brunt of those partnerships have come with athletes who attend Miami, not all of the athletes are Hurricanes.

Also an attorney, Ruiz said he never brought a Miami athlete to his house before the start of the NCAA’s NIL era. He also has been adamant that LifeWallet’s return on investment in NIL is not tied to the University of Miami.

Cigarette Racing, a speedboat-racing team that Ruiz owns, also has signed a number of athletes to NIL deals.

“I would call it very sloppy on their end [the NCAA],” he said. “What they should have done considering what had happened in an uncertain world, they should have sent the coach a letter of advice and say, ‘Hey, based on these new rules in the world, you shouldn’t have contacted a potential NIL opportunity until the players are enrolled.’

“But to go to the extreme that they did was completely uncalled for. There was no malice; there was no intent of utilizing NIL to have the girls come to Miami.”

Some in the NIL space recently told On3 that the NCAA might actually welcome a NIL-related court case. “The best thing for the NCAA is a court case because once it is initiated by a potential booster we have the discovery process,” said Peter Schoenthal, CEO of Athliance. “Both parties are entitled to all of the discovery – aka, the evidence – involved in the case. If the right case is brought, there are certainly going to be implicating emails and text messages, which is going to allow the NCAA to say, ‘See, we told you so.’ ”

Ruiz has been one of the most visible actors in the NIL era. Shortly after former Kansas State guard Nijel Pack committed to Miami last April, Ruiz announced that LifeWallet had signed him to a two-year deal worth $800,000 along with a car.

That was the last partnership in which Ruiz shared specific details. His tweet gained traction online, with some observers criticizing him for what they argued could be perceived as providing an inducement for Pack to commit to Miami. Along with the situation surrounding Pack and the number of deals he has announced, Ruiz believes the NCAA went after Miami to prove a point.

“I would hope to be able to answer ‘No,’ but it seems like the answer is ‘Yes,’ ” Ruiz said. “Because I have a very transparent platform. And I think the message from the NCAA was, ‘Hey, you know, put the brakes on it a little bit because that’s not the way that we viewed it [NIL] before this all happened.’ “