N.C.A.A. Investigates Booster Club Funding for College Sports

The University of Tennessee’s football program is under investigation for recruiting violations involving a donor collective, signaling an effort to rein in the role of outside money in college sports.

The N.C.A.A. is investigating the University of Tennessee’s football program for a potential recruiting violation involving a booster group in a significant escalation of efforts to rein in the rapidly expanding role of outside money in college sports, according to people familiar with the case.

The investigation is focused in part on the use of a private jet by a so-called donor collective to fly a high-profile recruit — now the school’s starting quarterback — to campus while the university was wooing him.

Having the booster group pay for the trip by the quarterback, Nico Iamaleava, would be a violation of N.C.A.A. rules. The inquiry comes after the N.C.A.A. penalized Tennessee for different recruiting violations and signals the N.C.A.A.’s growing concern about the scale and influence of the money being injected into college sports by donor collectives.

The case could have profound implications for the direction of high-profile programs across the country, especially in football, where outside money raised and disbursed to players by collectives has reshaped the economics of college athletics. News of the investigation into Tennessee’s athletic program was first reported by Sports Illustrated.

Tennessee officials are deeply concerned that the investigation could result in a devastating blow to the school’s football program, according to a person briefed on the matter. The program is already on probation for the earlier recruiting violations, and school officials are worried that the N.C.A.A. could take drastic action, like banning the team from postseason play and disqualifying players.

Facing that possibility, the school has hired several law firms and is considering a range of legal options to stave off any consequences.

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