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The National Collegiate Athletic Association is engaged in another war of words (and potentially legal action) with its member universities, this time over the association’s enforcement of its rules governing athletes’ names, images and likenesses.

The landscape for how players can profit from sponsorships and other uses of their names and images, which has been largely shaped by the courts and by state legislatures, has transformed college athletics. Athletes have benefited, but the situation has created confusion and consternation among politicians and sports officials and arguably widened gaps between athletics programs of differing wealth and athletes in different sports.

While the NCAA was forced to loosen its rules to allow athletes at its member colleges to receive compensation for use of their likenesses, it continues to be against NCAA rules for colleges themselves to use NIL incentives to recruit athletes. The association penalized Florida State University’s football program for such behavior in January, and news reports this week said the University of Tennessee at Knoxville was also under scrutiny for possible violations of recruiting rules involving NIL payments.

That prompted a vociferous reaction from Tennessee’s chancellor, Donde Plowman, who said the association, with “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.” Attorneys general in Tennessee and Virginia filed a lawsuit this week challenging the association’s NIL rules.

In an unusual statement Wednesday, the NCAA fired back, despite its usual policy of not discussing current investigations. The group’s members, it reminded Plowman and others, “not only make the rules but routinely call for greater enforcement of those rules and holding violators accountable,” the NCAA statement said.

The legal action challenging the NIL rules “would exacerbate what our members themselves have frequently described as a ‘wild west’ atmosphere, further tilting competitive imbalance among schools in neighboring states and diminishing protections for student-athletes from potential exploitation.”