Sources: NCAA levies significant penalties on Florida State for NIL recruiting violations

Florida State must disassociate with an NIL collective representative after NIL-related recruiting violations. (Rich Storry/Getty Images)

Thirty months into the era of name, image and likeness, the NCAA is finally dropping the hammer.

The association is levying significant penalties on Florida State football, one of its NIL collectives and a booster, as well as an assistant coach, for NIL-related recruiting violations in the most serious and unprecedented sanctions handed down in the first 2 1/2 years of NIL. Multiple sources with knowledge of the decision and penalties spoke to Yahoo Sports under condition of anonymity.

The sanctions, wide-ranging and broad, are tied to a spring 2022 recruiting event and are part of a resolution negotiated between the school and the NCAA.

A Florida State assistant coach, offensive coordinator Alex Atkins, is found to have committed two Level II violations, which include impermissible recruiting activity and facilitating impermissible contact with an NIL-related booster. Atkins is alleged to have driven a prospect and his parents to a meeting with a leading member of the school’s NIL collective, Rising Spear.

During that meeting, according to the NCAA, the booster encouraged the prospect to enroll at Florida State and offered him an NIL opportunity with the collective worth approximately $15,000 per month during his first year at the school.

As part of the penalties, Atkins will be suspended the first three games of the 2024 regular season and is given a two-year show-cause. A show-cause requires schools who hire Atkins to explain the decision to NCAA officials. Atkins is expected to remain on FSU’s staff in his current role.

In a first of its kind in the NIL era, the school must disassociate with the NIL collective representative for a term of three years. The school also must disassociate from the NIL collective for one year. As part of the dissociation, FSU cannot accept assistance from the collective and the collective cannot contribute to the athletic program in any way. However, the collective is free to continue working with FSU athletes on NIL endeavors.

Other penalties, which were confirmed by the NCAA Thursday, include:

- two years of probation.

- scholarship reductions of 5% over the next two academic years.

- a reduction by seven in official recruiting visits for 2023-24.

- a prohibition on recruiting communication for six weeks over the next two academic years, including this next week (Jan. 12-18).

- a prohibition on communication with athletes in the transfer portal from April 15-21.

- a reduction by 18 evaluation days this spring.

- a financial penalty of 1% of the athletic department’s budget.

The NCAA’s rules around NIL are murky. The association only has an interim NIL policy that provides guidance to programs — a policy that is under continuous change in this ever-evolving landscape of athlete compensation.

In fact, the organization adopted new guidance just this week around NIL, but those changes are not retroactively applied. The organization also adopted new recommendations on Thursday that permit schools to have more communication with collectives and facilitate deals with enrolled athletes.

The NCAA sanctions are the latest issue in which FSU is thrust into the news cycle.

The Seminoles became the first undefeated Power Five champion to be left out of the College Football Playoff this past season, a move that ignited backlash from Florida politicians and legal challenges. Two weeks after the CFP’s decision, FSU filed a lawsuit challenging the ACC’s grant of rights in its first significant step to leave the conference.

Meanwhile, the program’s coach, Mike Norvell, is one of a small group of coaches believed to be a serious candidate for Alabama’s coaching search after the surprise retirement of Nick Saban on Wednesday. How the NCAA’s investigation of Florida State impacts Norvell’s candidacy is unclear. He is not expected to receive any individual sanctions.

Florida State officials declined comment when reached Thursday. From the NCAA convention in Phoenix, NCAA officials declined comment as well. However, leaders of the NCAA’s enforcement staff addressed general NIL-related rules violations during a session Thursday morning from the convention.

Mark Hicks, the NCAA enforcement managing director for development, told a group of administrators that the association is focused on “tampering and inducements” related to NIL and that they have proof that recruiting rules are being violated. The NCAA has screenshots of text messages from sitting head coaches sent directly to players competing on other college teams in attempts to get them to transfer schools.

Coaches are, as well, reaching out to the high school coaches of college players as intermediaries, said Hicks. College coaches are messaging high school coaches, “If you go to Johnny and ask him to get in the portal, we’d be interested in him!”

Athletes are doing it as well.

“There are student-athletes reaching out to coaches, ‘I’m thinking about going into the portal. Would you be interested?’” Hicks said.

NCAA officials are learning of new ways that universities are inducing athletes to their campus, said Hicks, including offering a combination of cash, an apartment lease, a vehicle and transportation for family members to visit campus.

However, many in college athletics have been frustrated with the lack of infractions cases related to NIL violations. This is the second NIL-adjacent infractions case. Last spring, the NCAA hit Miami with mostly minor sanctions related to a booster hosting prospects at his home.

More cases are not pursued because of a lack of evidence, NCAA leaders have often cited.