Josh Heupel files declaration supporting Tennessee AG’s legal battle against NCAA NIL rules

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Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel added his voice to the state of Tennessee’s lawsuit against the NCAA on Friday, making the case that name, image and likeness (NIL) financial deals can be crucial for college athletes and that they should have as much NIL information as possible before choosing schools.

Tennessee attorney general Jonathan Skrmetti filed Heupel’s declaration Friday supporting a preliminary injunction to halt NCAA rules on NIL-related recruiting until the lawsuit — brought jointly by the states of Tennessee and Virginia — concludes. Earlier this week, a federal judge in east Tennessee denied a temporary restraining order that would have barred the NCAA from enforcing its NIL rules. Judge Clifton L. Corker will rule on the preliminary injunction Tuesday.

In a seven-page declaration obtained by The Athletic, Heupel argued the benefits of NIL and legitimate information around NIL in the decision-making process for athletes. The initial lawsuit was filed a day after an NCAA investigation into NIL-related recruiting practices at Tennessee went public. Heupel kept his message mostly to the sport in general, pointing out that most college athletes don’t go pro and should be allowed to maximize their NIL opportunities in college.

“Because of the risk of injuries in college sports, an early NIL deal could be the best or only NIL deal they might ever secure,” Heupel wrote. “The current NIL environment is complicated for everyone involved: current student athletes, prospective student athletes, coaches, schools, collectives and fans. NCAA rules are vague and confusing. They frequently change and they sometimes conflict with NCAA’s prior guidance.

“Because of the NIL-recruiting ban, the information recruits have about NIL opportunities associated with a given school is incomplete and not always reliable. Athletes want to know about and understand their opportunities, but like my fellow coaches at UT I feel I have to avoid discussing NIL opportunities in any way, even at a high level, or assisting athletes in navigating this complicated environment. Because we’re unable to help recruits navigate these issues, they don’t have the full picture of all the opportunities that are available to them, which can cause them to make poor decisions. Recruits often don’t know, like we do, the reputation and trustworthiness of who they are working with; without that information, they can pick a school that isn’t the best fit for them based on false promises of NIL that never come to fruition.”

(Photo: Saul Young / News Sentinel / USA Today)

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