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University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman Eviscerates NCAA Regarding Supposed NIL Violations


Neyland Stadium, TN
'Neyland Stadium' Photo Credit: TJ Chapman via CFD

University of Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman wrote a scathing response to NCAA president Charlie Baker after members of the university met with NCAA enforcement staff regarding allegations related to name, image, and likeness (NIL).

 

To use hockey terminology; Chancellor Plowman dropped her gloves and is ready to throw hands with the NCAA.

Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated first reported on Tuesday that the NCAA is investigating Tennessee for “potential rules violations that is ‘major’ in nature…The case involves multiple sports and includes scrutiny of name, image and likeness (NIL) benefits for athletes.” Tennessee has one of the largest NIL Collectives in the country, known as The Volunteer Club, which reportedly has more than 4,000 members. The collective is run by Spyre Sports Group, based in Knoxville, TN.

 

From the opening paragraph, Plowman clarified that she is not pleased with the NCAA.


“…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 sentiment in that paragraph, in some capacity, has been shared by many people in the college football world over the past two years. There are no clear-cut rules when it comes to NIL. But nobody in the position of Plowman has ever publicly shared those thoughts.

 

Plowman points out that the rules, and the interpretation of those rules, are vague and go against any guidance previously provided by the NCAA. The rules for NIL benefits have evolved over the course of the past year, yet it seems the NCAA is attempting to punish Tennessee for violations that were not considered violations at the time the actions took place.

 

The name most mentioned with regard to the investigations linked to Spyre Sports Group has been Tennessee star freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava. Spyre issued a statement on Tuesday saying, in part, “…the agreement was fully consistent with then existing NCAA NIL “guidelines” and had nothing to do with recruiting Nico to the University of Tennessee or any other school.”

 

While Tennessee has not received a list of the alleged violations, Plowman writes, “the NCAA enforcement staff is trying to retroactively apply unclear guidance to punish and make an example of our institution…” Plowman further states that some of the NCAA’s allegations against Tennessee “are simply factually untrue.”

 

According to emails dating from December 15, through December 21, 2023, Plowman and Tennessee athletic director Danny White unsuccessfully attempted to speak directly with Baker.

 

In Plowman's letter to the NCAA dated January 29, Plowman brought up Baker’s testimony before the Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee, the first legislative hearing of the 118th Congress concerning college athletes’ abilities to generate earnings from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). Baker stated he wanted to meet with as many member institutions and student-athletes as possible.

 

In the emails, Tennessee’s staff offered six different dates to meet either in person or via Zoom with Baker.

 

Plowman wrote in her January 29th letter to Baker, “I am sharing my perspective in writing since my December request for you to meet with me and our Athletics Director, Danny White, was denied.”

 

In June of 2021, the NCAA lost a lawsuit to former UCLA basketball player Shawne Alston that created compensation for name, image, and likeness for student-athletes. The NCAA’s refusal to meet any issues head-on and instead take a reactionary approach is what led to the Alston lawsuit as well as the current Wild West situation in college sports. For decades the NCAA has refused to adjust with the times in areas such as transfer rules and compensation for student-athletes.

 

“Rather than partnering with institutions…” Plowman writes, “the NCAA enforcement staff appears to be trying to bully institutions back to a time before the Alston decision, which will inevitably lead to more lawsuits.”

Plowman also points out the NCAA’s refusal to work with member institutions on putting together legislation for NIL. She writes that the “NCAA has embarked on a campaign of legislation by enforcement. Just this month, Jon Duncan expressed that the NCAA enforcement staff is preparing to bring a number of NIL cases in the coming months.”

 

She also accuses the NCAA of pushing a “presumption of guilt” bylaw to assist in pursuing those NIL cases. The actions by the NCAA are creating a “guilty until proven innocent” mentality. Plowman writes that the standard the NCAA is setting “is not problem-solving and violates the core principle in our country’s justice system of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’”

 

The current situation for Tennessee is dangerously close to being a second violation within a five-year period. In July of 2023, Tennessee was put on probation for infractions of the prior administration and football coaching staff. Plowman fully cooperated with the NCAA in that investigation and cleaned house within the athletic department and football team.

 

Her confusion about another potential phrase thrown Tennessee’s way was addressed as well: the dreaded “lack of institutional control.” This is the most serious charge the NCAA can levy at a university. Plowman’s question is where is the complete turn-around coming from?

 

“It is inconceivable that our institution’s leadership would be cited as an example of exemplary leadership in July 2023, then as a cautionary example of a lack of institutional control only six months later.”


Plowman’s offensive against the NCAA, and President Charlie Baker, is one that can be looked at as a breath of fresh air. The collective shock from her words can be felt in athletic departments across the country. Donde Plowman said in a letter what many have been saying privately for months. There needs to be clear and enforceable legislation for name, image, and likeness. However, it is clear that this legislation will not come from the NCAA.


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