One Quick Thing: NIL injunction doesn’t really change anything

The decision by the judge in the Tennessee vs NCAA case simply confirms the status quo isn't changing. The real question will be if Clemson Football can afford to continue as the counter-culture option to unlimited NIL.

Nov 17, 2023; Charlottesville, VA, USA; The NCAA logo at the NCAA cross country championships course
Nov 17, 2023; Charlottesville, VA, USA; The NCAA logo at the NCAA cross country championships course / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The judge for Tennessee’s lawsuit against the NCAA has granted an injunction prohibiting the NCAA from enforcing rules that limit NIL for student-athletes. This created a modest reaction from some people on social media, but not as much as you might think.

Some simply acknowledged that this was a strong indicator that the NCAA was likely to lose the lawsuit. Others called it the death knell of the NCAA.

In the big picture, however, there wasn’t that much reaction, and most of the reaction that came was brief. I think the reason for this is that the injunction didn’t change very much for many fans, for varying reasons.

Some fans are pleased with the ruling and have favored players maximizing NIL for several years. Other fans, like me, have simply become resigned to the conclusion that the NCAA wouldn’t be able to do anything about NIL violations, such as enticements to recruits. If they tried, there would be a lawsuit and they would lose. That’s exactly what appears to be happening, so this is just the most likely outcome playing out. Its nothing to be surprised about.

While some of the fans who reacted with surprise or dismay are beginning to understand NIL and its current landscape are here to stay, others seem to still not fully comprehend the circumstances.

There are a few who appear to think the end of the NCAA will hasten the promotion or creation of a different organization that will set things right. That this organization, be it an SEC/Big Ten hybrid or a brand new affiliation of universities, will somehow return college sports to the rules and business model it enjoyed until a decade ago.

What those fans seem to misunderstand is that the courts aren’t ruling against the NCAA as an organization, they are ruling against the business model and the rules that governed it.

It doesn’t matter if a new organization pops up and tries to limit NIL or other benefits. That organization will be sued and disarmed as well.

Is it likely the NCAA will survive this? I think it’s about 50-50. It probably depends on the leadership of the SEC and Big Ten. They might decide to try to wrestle power from the NCAA. Some think that is inevitable but I’m not as convinced.

The NCAA is the universities. It is the entity they created. It has been working to promote their interests for years. Fans (and maybe some coaches - looking at you Mack Brown) might think they are incompetent, but everything the NCAA has done for decades has been to protect the cash cow business model designed to funnel the revenue to the schools exclusively. They aren't as useless as you probably think. They simply haven't had the same priorities as you, the fan.

I think fans consider the NCAA to be a failure because they aren't doing what the fans think is important. I don't think most of the NCAA's constituent institutions see them as a failure. It isn’t a slam dunk that the NCAA goes away just because the business model goes away.

The main reason this injunction doesn’t really mean anything is it simply confirms that the schools of the NCAA, and the collectives and boosters that support them, will be able to continue to do business the same way as they have for the past few seasons. We have simply eliminated the antiquated notion that the NCAA would suddenly get tough and put an end to it, which few informed observers believed in the first place.

The question now turns to Clemson Football and how they operate as the ‘counter-culture’ option in the new world order of unrestricted NIL. The Tigers have seen success in certain ways with the way they operate - retention rates have been better than most peer programs - but that hasn't completely translated to success on the field. If that success isn't apparent in 2024, then difficult discussions will be necessary within the Clemson athletic department.