Dan MurphyESPN staff writer4 minutes to read
The NCAA issued its first penalties in a case involving name, image and likeness opportunities for college athletes on Friday. Miami Women’s basketball program with a year of probation and other minor penalties for participating in inducing a meeting between the wealthy alum and two players who transferred to the school last summer.
The case involves several notables in the emerging market for name, image, and likeness deals, none of whom have received any direct penalties from the NCAA. The penalties stem from a meeting between Miami alum John Ruiz and the transfer of basketball players Haley W Hannah Cavender.
Ruiz has signed more than 100 Hurricanes sports to NIL deals to promote his LifeWallet company, some of which are reportedly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. His conversations and dealings with athletes who moved to Miami for a number of sports came under scrutiny in the NCAA last year. Ruiz, who was not penalized or suspended as a result of the case, told ESPN that the NCAA had no right to stop him from contacting any parties he wanted to sign a contract with.
“They have no substance or no effect whatsoever,” Ruiz said of the sanctions announced on Friday. “It’s mostly focused on the coach, which is unfortunate. But it doesn’t affect me or my business. If that happens, I’m going to sue the NCAA and it’s not going to be a good day for them.”
Miami coach Katie Meyer previously served at an imposed school Three-game suspension At the start of the hurricane season as a penalty associated with this case. The NCAA said Meyer exchanged text messages with Ruiz saying it would make sure the Cavender twins knew who he was after he tried to arrange a meeting with them before their official campus visit last summer.
“For more than 30 years, I have led my programs with integrity and been a collaborative partner with the NCAA,” Meyer said in a statement released Friday. “Colleague athletics is in a state of transition, and any unintentional mistake I made was prior to fully understanding the barriers in place and the clarification issued by the NCAA in May. We all look forward to a time when there is a national solution to help our student-athletes, coaches, and institutions.”
The fact that Ruiz was not sanctioned as part of a negotiated settlement between the NCAA and the University of Miami “annoyed” the committee meeting to approve the penalties.
“Boosters engage with prospects and student athletes in ways no NCAA member has ever seen or encountered,” the panelists said in a statement from the NCAA on Friday. “…in this way, addressing impermissible reinforcing behavior is critical, and dissociation punishment is an effective sanction available to the infractions committee.”
The Cavinders, who have more than 3 million social media followers, have been among the most prominent college athletes capitalizing on their online fame with the ability to sign endorsement deals since the NCAA changed its rules in July 2021. According to Ruiz, the twins have hosted and their parents for dinner at his house after the former Fresno State basketball players decided to attend Miami.
Since 2021, a growing number of college athletic administrators and coaches have voiced complaints about the NCAA’s failure to enforce a limited set of rules governing the use of a college athlete’s name, image, and likeness. It is a violation of the rules to use NIL opportunities as a recruiting incentive to persuade an athlete to attend a particular school.
Because of state laws protecting NIL activities and a lack of cooperation from schools, NCAA application staff say they have difficulty gathering evidence to substantiate any of the widespread allegations that some coaches and boosters use NIL deals as incentives to attract players to the school. In this case, the NCAA obtained text messages between Meier and Ruiz that showed a violation had occurred.
The NCAA changed its rules in January to place the burden of proof in any lack of information investigation on the party accused of a violation of the NIL. This case was opened before this rule took effect; Otherwise, NCAA investigators could have been more on their own terms to punish Ruiz or try to force him to prove that his endorsement deal with the Cavinders was not intended as an incentive.
Ruiz said he did not intend to change the way he used college athletes as supporters of his business going forward, and indicated that he did not believe any attempt by the NCAA to prevent him from running his business would face a lawsuit.
Ruiz questioned why the NCAA chose to issue its first penalties in a sport where NIL deals as recruiting inducements were not seen as a widespread problem. Most complaints about inappropriate inducements have come from the men’s soccer and basketball teams. He also questioned why the NCAA would focus on two athletes who have some of the largest legitimate market values of any of their peers because of the size of their social media following.
“You’re dealing with a sport that’s basically growing and we want to grow.” Ruiz said. “For trying to tarnish the intentions of these young girls, you’re almost trying to punish these young women who did nothing wrong. It’s really bad taste, but fortunately for them, I have nothing to do with it, because if they did, I would sue them.”
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