If Tennessee is guilty, what programs in college football are not?

The beleaguered NCAA is investigating a Tennessee NIL deal. College football is in dire need of enforcement, but few fans trust the NCAA's ability to control 'pay for play.'
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Paying recruits and players to join a team and play college football is so common, that almost no deal is considered an outrage. The Tennessee football program is testing the premise that it is impossible to go too far.

An NCAA inquiry into the financial arrangement obtained by sophomore Tennessee quarterback, Nico Iamaleava has progressed far enough that the University of Tennessee has responded with a strong-worded denial. Not only did the Tennessee Chancellor deny any wrongdoing, she added,

"... 2 1/2 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."

Donde Plowman

Tennessee may well be guilty, but worse is that Plowman's assessment of the NCAA is not wrong.

What is known about Tennessee's deal for Nico Iamaleava

For everyone other than the participants, any 'known' is based on what is believed to be solid information from a credible source. Having such information and such a source is rare. In this case, the college football world has both.

In March 2022, Stewart Mandel reported on a $8M deal received by an athlete to play football at Tennessee. Mandel gained access to the contract but had to agree to only refer to the player as a 5-Star recruit. Mandel explained the financial arrangement through The Athletic.

"He’ll be paid $350,000 almost immediately, followed by monthly payouts escalating to more than $2 million per year once he begins his college career, in exchange for making public appearances and taking part in social media promotions and other NIL activities “on behalf of (the collective) or a third party.""

Stewart Mandel

The NCAA has maintained a consistent stance that recruits cannot be paid to sign with a school. The NCAA has also poorly and ineffectively defined that NIL payments should not be 'pay for play.' If Mandel's information can be trusted, it appears Tennessee grossly violated the intended use of NIL.

A key question goes beyond what Tennessee did or did not do, to what other deep-pocket programs are doing. The Vols may have made a cutting-edge deal that has become common across college football.

Some may ask why any of this matters. Perhaps it doesn't. But in a college football world where some players earn more to play than does a Super Bowl quarterback, has not something gone seriously wrong - and where will it lead?