Tennessee hopes its “exemplary cooperation” with the NCAA will help the Volunteers avoid serious penalties from 18 major rule violations as easily as they avoided paying for former coach Jeremy Pruitt’s multimillion-dollar buyout. .
The NCAA notified Tennessee on Friday of the NCAA’s most serious Level 1 violations for allegedly providing impermissible cash, gifts and benefits worth approximately $60,000 to soccer rookies. and to their families under Pruitt. The notice of allegations says at least a dozen Pruitt staffers were implicated in more than 200 individual violations over a two-year period.
Tennessee has until Oct. 20 to respond, according to the letter it received from association law enforcement personnel.
Pruitt and nine others were terminated for cause in January 2021 after Tennessee launched an internal investigation following a whistleblower on November 13, 2020 and discovered what the university’s chancellor called ” serious violations of NCAA rules.” The layoff nullified Pruitt’s $12.6 million buyout after he went 16-19 in three seasons.
Chancellor Donde Plowman had said Pruitt was in charge of overseeing the football programme. Tennessee also laid off two assistants and seven recruiting and support staff. Pruitt, three of his assistants and three other staff could face cause sanctions, which would prevent them from obtaining other university employment after a hearing with the Division I infraction committee of the NCAA.
“At every step of this process, we have taken swift and decisive action that exemplifies longstanding NCAA values reiterated in the new membership constitution,” Plowman said in a statement Friday. “The university hired outside counsel to thoroughly investigate the allegations about the football program, moved quickly to terminate the employment of football coaches and staff, and shared our findings with the NCAA law enforcement personnel.”
Pruitt told ESPN he was still reading the report and seeing a lot of information in the allegations for the first time.
“I’d rather not comment much beyond that except to say I’m looking forward to telling my side of the story somewhere down the road,” Pruitt said.
NCAA investigators opened a case in December 2020 and became more involved in the two weeks before Pruitt was fired.
The complaint notes how Tennessee conducted its investigation “should be the standard for any institutional investigation into potential violations.” The NCAA noted that Tennessee immediately mirrored the cellphones of football staff members leading to information “that substantiated the alleged violations.”
Tennessee concluded its investigation last November and announced it would not self-impose a bowl ban to avoid penalizing current players and coaches. New sporting director Danny White, who replaced retired Phillip Fulmer, hired Josh Heupel at the end of January 2021.
Plowman noted that NCAA law enforcement personnel acknowledged the university’s “exemplary cooperation” in the case.
“While we take appropriate responsibility, last fall the university announced that we would not impose sanctions that harm innocent student-athletes, such as postseason bans based on the actions of coaches and staff who are no longer part of the institution,” Plowman said.
Three Level I allegations involve unauthorized visits during the COVID-19 recruitment dead period.
Over nine separate weekends from July through November 2020, approximately $12,100 in inadmissible recruiting inducements and unofficial visit fees were provided to six recruits and their families to come to the Knoxville area, according to the complaint.
Among the allegations, on at least 31 occasions from January 2019 to March 2021, outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, recruiting staffer Bethany Gunn and Pruitt’s wife Casey Pruitt, provided approximately $16,300 in ineligible benefits to an individual in the form of cash, parking to attend home football games and entertainment expenses to host a rookie’s mother.
And on 25 occasions from January 2019 to March 2021, Casey Pruitt allegedly provided a total of $12,500 in cash benefits to someone for monthly car payments.
Pruitt and two recruiting staff members provided or arranged approximately $11,223 on at least 20 occasions between January 2019 and December 2020. This includes $2,443 reimbursed to the Assistant Director of Recruiting using CashApp for costs covering furniture, household items or party decorations.
The then-head coach also provided around $6,000 in cash for a down payment on a new car during an unofficial visit.
White said in a statement that receiving the Notice of Allegations “was an expected and required step in this process – a process that our university has proactively initiated through decisive and transparent action. It brings us closer to a final resolution.
“Until we get to that point, I’m not in a position to discuss the matter in detail. As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for what happened, but we remain committed to protecting our current and future student-athletes.
AP Sports Writer John Raby contributed to this report.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25