Reports: NCAA investigating Tennessee for potential NIL-related violations

FILE - A Tennessee cheerleader runs with a flag before an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee has been in contact with NCAA investigators and a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, the inquiry is into potential rules violations related to name, image and likeness compensation for multiple athletes.(AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)
Tennessee is under NCAA investigation for potential NIL-related violations. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Tennessee is reportedly under an NCAA microscope again.

According to multiple reports, the NCAA is investigating the school for potential breaches of the governing body’s muddled name, image and likeness rules. Per the New York Times, one of the allegations at the center of the investigation centers around a collective’s payment for a private flight for Tennessee QB Nico Iamaleava's recruiting visit.

Tennessee’s Spyre Sports Group has been one of the most active collectives in the country since the NCAA allowed athletes to start making money off their image rights. Collectives solicit donations from fans and boosters and then sign athletes to marketing deals. It’s technically against NCAA rules to use potential endorsement money as a recruiting tool, however, the waters are extremely murky. Especially when it comes to the involvement of collectives and the NCAA's policing of them.

This investigation comes after Tennessee was fined $8 million for NCAA violations that happened under former head coach Jeremy Pruitt. The fine and the vacating of 11 wins in July of 2023 came after a years-long process that Tennessee initiated in 2020. Pruitt was fired from the school with cause after the 2020 season — by firing Pruitt with cause, the school didn’t have to pay him his buyout.

The NCAA said this summer that “hundreds” of NCAA violations happened during Pruitt’s three years with the school and that there was a scheme to bring recruits to campus on paid recruiting visits that were not classified as official visits.

The infractions under Pruitt predated the NCAA’s current laws governing name, image and likeness. And Tennessee is also pushing back against the NCAA amid this latest investigation. In a letter to NCAA president Charlie Baker, UT chancellor Donde Plowman said the NCAA is “failing.”

“The leaders of intercollegiate athletics owe it to student-athletes and their families to establish clear rules and to act in their best interest,” Plowman wrote. “Instead, two and a half years of vague and contradictory NCAA memos, emails and ‘guidance’ about name, image and likeness (NIL) has created extraordinary chaos that student-athletes and institutions are struggling to navigate. In short, the NCAA is failing.”

The Spyre Sports Group issued a statement through an attorney on Tuesday night.

Tennessee is not the only school currently facing NCAA scrutiny because of NIL-related issues. Both Florida and Florida State are also being investigated for possible violations of NCAA rules relating to NIL and Miami agreed to penalties with the NCAA in February of 2023 regarding NIL-related recruiting violations in women’s basketball.