NCAA: 18 Infractions by Previous Tennessee Football Staff

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University of Tennessee officials are reacting to Friday's Notice of Allegations from the NCAA outlining 18 Level I recruiting violations by now-departed football staff.

In a 51-page document obtained by the Knoxville News Sentinel, the NCAA lays out the Level I (most serious) violations involving almost $60,000 of cash or gifts provided to players and their families by former football coach Jeremy Pruitt, his wife and numerous coaches, recruiting staff and at least one booster. None are currently employed by the university.

The NCAA contends Pruitt and his staff gave players cash and gifts throughout his tenure with the Vols from 2018-21. And it says that his wife, Casey, paid more than $15,000 in rent and car payments for a Tennessee player and his mother over two and a half years. In all, the report lists 32 instances of recruits or players taking cash or gifts — mostly hotel stays, meals, entertainment, team apparel, transportation and game-day parking.

In the notice of allegations, the NCAA credited Tennessee for self-reporting violations and its "exemplary cooperation" in the investigation. It also did not find the university lacked institutional control, a significant decision that likely removes Tennessee from program-crippling levels of punishment.

In January, the NCAA ratified a new constitution that calls for individuals to be punished rather than “student-athletes innocent of the infractions,” and for postseason bans to be rarely implemented as penalties. 

Tennessee did not self-impose a bowl ban because it does not want to punish players for the actions of coaches and staff no longer in the program, though sources close to the situation told the News Sentinel that Tennessee self-imposed restrictions last year on recruiting and scholarships without making a public announcement.

Tennessee paid $1.12 million in legal fees to the firm Bond, Schoeneck & King from November 2020 to February 2022 to work on the NCAA case, according to invoices the university provided to the News Sentinel after a public records request. The most recent fees, which are billed quarterly, are not yet available.

Tennessee and those named in the notice have 90 days to respond to the allegations. The NCAA then has 60 days to respond.

University chancellor Donde Plowman issued the following statement Friday:

“Earlier today, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, received a notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding the football program led by former head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

"In every step of this process, we took quick and decisive actions that exemplified the longstanding values of the NCAA reiterated in the membership’s new constitution. The university hired outside counsel to fully investigate allegations about the football program, acted promptly to terminate the employment of football coaches and staff members, and shared our conclusions with the NCAA enforcement staff.

"The NCAA Division I Board of Directors recently endorsed significant reforms to the infractions process proposed by the Transformation Committee, including clearly and meaningfully incentivizing the type of responsive institutional actions we took in this case – self-detection and reporting, self-accountability, and the active involvement of the institution’s chief executive. The NCAA enforcement staff recognized the university’s “exemplary cooperation” in the case and stated that 't]he actions taken by the institution during the investigation should be the standard for any institutional inquiries into potential violations.'

"While we will take appropriate responsibility, last fall, the university announced that we will not self-impose penalties that harm innocent student-athletes like postseason bans based upon the actions of coaches and staff who are no longer part of the institution. Under the NCAA’s new constitution, rules 'must ensure to the greatest extent possible that penalties imposed for infractions do not punish programs or student-athletes not involved or implicated in the infraction(s).'

"While NCAA bylaws prohibit the university from publicly commenting about the specific allegations, we have and will continue to seek a timely resolution of this case that is consistent with the NCAA’s new constitution and in the best interests of the University of Tennessee.

"In the meantime, we will continue to support our football program’s new leadership, our exceptional student-athletes and the culture of winning and accountability they are building.”

Plowman fired Pruitt for cause in January 2021, along with two assistant coaches and seven staff members, and announced that a university investigation had revealed evidence of sweeping and serious NCAA violations occurring under Pruitt’s watch.

In a separate statement, vice chancellor and director of athletics Danny White said,  “Receipt of our Notice of Allegations was an expected, requisite step in this process—a process our university initiated proactively through decisive and transparent actions. This moves us one step closer to a final resolution. Until we get to that point, I am unable to discuss the case in any detail. As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for what occurred, but we remain committed to protecting our current and future student-athletes.”​

As reported by The Spun, ESPN's Paul Finebaum reacted Friday afternoon to the Tennessee news while on the SEC Network.  

“I don’t think Tennessee’s going to be shut down over this,” he said. “I’m not really sure they’re going to be hit that hard, the reason being that they jumped on it. The president of Tennessee, Chancellor Donde Plowman, fired Jeremy Pruitt and forced [former athletic director] Phillip Fulmer out."

“This reflects more on Phillip Fulmer than really anyone else,” Finebaum added. “I was in favor of him returning as athletic director, I thought that was a great return, a historical move for a university. I felt like Fulmer was going to bring everyone together. Instead, he turned out to have made one of the worst coaching decisions any athletic director has ever made.”

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